Boston-Dynamics have developed a dog-like robot with door-opening abilities, equipped with a camera. The robot will be available next year and marketed as a security guard.
Over the past nine years, Boston-Dynamics has gradually unveiled its experimental predator-like animal robots on YouTube; with one video showing a life-size robotic wildcat, sprinting across a parking lot at 20 miles an hour. Since then the company has tested their robots in a variety of locations and terrain. The dog-robot, affectionately named 'Spot', is the latest development comes after more than 40 years of research.
Boston Dynamics began as a spin-off company from MIT, with military funding assistance, to develop animal-inspired robots using cutting edge technology and electronics.
The canine-inspired robot has the ability to open doors, climb stairs and go toe-to-toe with a human in a tug-of-war match. However, some people have found the Black-Mirror-esque robot unnerving and Boston Dynamics have not been forthcoming with information about its applications. For many months, its parent company SoftBank have closed their doors to the press and rebuffed the requests for more information.
Military Applications Possible
The Founder and CEO, Marc Raibert has made it clear in the past that he does not rule out military applications for the robot - "We think about that, but that's also true for cars, airplanes, computers, lasers," Raibert said, "Every technology you can imagine has multiple ways of using it. If there's a scary part, it's just that people are scary. I don't think the robots by themselves are scary."
Boston Dynamics CEO and founder Marc Raibert, seen with the SpotMini robot, says he doesn't rule out future military applications. However, he played down fears that his company's robots could one day be used to kill. (Image credit: Issei Kato/Reuters)
Despite outsider's moral or ethical concerns, interviews with eight former employees of Boston Dynamics hint that the company is still single-mindedly pursuing animal-inspired robotics. The employees suggest that the company is more of a research lab than a company, with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (aka DARPA) contracting database lists of over $150 million US in defense funding since 1994. Boston Dynamics believes only a quarter of their work on robots will "unlock a very high commercial value”. However, they refused to answer if the robots would be weaponized.
Back in 2013, the company was acquired by Google, who stipulated that they would not take on military work.
He [Andy Rubin, Former Chief Robotics Executive for Google and Android Cofounder] was talking about really ambitious goals. A robot that might be able to help the elderly and infirm. Robots that work in grocery stores. Robots that deliver packages.
However, once Andy Rubin left Google in 2014, his replacements became concerned with Raibert’s approach. According to those close to the transition, one of the main reasons why Google staff lost confidence in Boston Dynamics was due to the company’s lack of interest in developing a product that can be sold on the common market. This eventually lead the company to sell the research laboratory in 2016 to the Japanese technology giant, SoftBank. The deal was finally closed in early 2018.
SoftBank has history in investing in robotics and already have a humanoid robot called Pepper. As mentioned previously, the company is cagey about where they plan on taking Boston Dynamics. However, as can be seen from recent job advertisements, there may be more of a focus on a sellable product. One advert seeks a “robot evangelist”. This job includes finding “market-driven applications” for the robots. Some of the listed areas of interest include logistics, construction and commercial security.