The next time you need to reach for the remote on the other side of the room, call your robot dog to the rescue.
The first whiff the world got of Boston’s work with robotic dogs was perhaps when MIT’s Robotic Cheetah debuted in 2015:
Shortly thereafter, Boston Dynamics revealed Spot, the second generation of these dogs:
Today, we have SpotMini, one product of the nine in Boston Dynamics’s lineup of robots.
Boston Dynamic, an extension from the Institute, took robotics from the research labs to the market. These robots have varied features which serve different purposes.
SpotMini is rechargeable and runs on a battery with a lifespan of 90 minutes. It’s unlike its relatives, in that it does not use methanol, diesel, propane, or gas engines, but just electricity.
Unlike its stronger relatives which rely on hydraulics, SpotMini’s 17 joints make use of electrical motors that compose this quiet prototype. Atop its “head” sits an arm with 5 degrees of freedom that is seen loading a dishwasher, delivering cans of soda, opening a door, and even helping right the robot up after falling down.
Aside from pressure/gyro sensors and an IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit), it relies on a 3D Vision System composed of stereo and depth cameras (laser and video). Its 3D Vision System is different from the LiDAR scanning (Light Detection and Ranging) of the Spot model that builds topographical data that allows the robot to asses its surroundings and calculate its movements. In addition, its surroundings can be pre-mapped or pre-scanned to allow autonomous or manual navigation.
Most of the initial research was funded by DARPA, the US’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, with the mission of “making pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security” . Boston Dynamics begins the sale of the prototypes this upcoming year (2019), targeting consumers who need this friend for security patrols, construction site messengers, warehouse pets, or home and office companions . The customization ability of these machines, with the options for additional software for practical tasks have expanded it from the US army’s catalog to that of normal residents.
These robots are praised for their agility, but not yet for their availability. Boston Dynamics, now affiliated with Google, is aiming to make these robots a versatile foundation for limitless applications . From the ten initial prototypes, the company is now aiming to produce 1,000 annually at a tenth of the initial cost by utilizing compact 3D printing practices, for third-parties who would benefit from having a dog-robot – like the USPS deliveries of packages or workers at hazardous sites .
Its sleek design is reminiscent of our future where SpotMinis are not seen replacing man’s best friend, but becoming man’s best helper.
- “About DARPA.” Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, http://www.darpa.mil/about-us/about-darpa.
- “Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini Is All Electric, Agile, and Has A Capable Face-Arm – Slashdot.” Slashdot News, news.slashdot.org/story/16/06/23/2010223/boston-dynamics-spotmini-is-all-electric-agile-and-has-a-capable-face-arm?sdsrc=rel.
- McKay, Tom. “Boston Dynamics Says It Can Build 1,000 Robot Dogs a Year By Mid-2019.” Gizmodo, Gizmodo.com, 21 July 2018, gizmodo.com/boston-dynamics-says-it-can-build-1-000-robot-dogs-a-ye-1827777202.
- Novak, Matt. “Recapping ‘The Jetsons’: Episode 04 – The Coming of Astro.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 15 Oct. 2012, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/recapping-the-jetsons-episode-04-the-coming-of-astro-74333153/.
- “Boston Dynamics.” Boston Dynamics, 2018, http://www.bostondynamics.com/.