July 21, 2018
Boston Dynamics, maker of uncannily agile robots, is poised to bring its first commercial product to market — a small, dog-like robot called the SpotMini.
The launch was announced in May, and founder Marc Raibert recently said that by July of next year, Boston Dynamics will be producing the SpotMini at the rate of around 1,000 units per year.
The broader goal, as reported by Inverse, is to create a flexible platform for a variety of applications. According to Raibert, SpotMini is currently being tested for use in construction, delivery, security, and home assistance applications.
Spot, the Mini’s closest ‘relative,’ stands at close to four feet and weights about 160 pounds. A video of Spot navigating stairs and other complex terrain — and staying on its feet when kicked — has been viewed nearly 19 million times on YouTube. Fascination with Boston Dynamics’ creations is largely rooted in their agility, which can make them seem shockingly like living creatures.
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Where Boston Dynamics’ previous robots featured plenty of exposed wiring and bare metal, the SpotMini has the sleek, finished design of a commercial product — but those fearful of a robot uprising will still find plenty of nightmare fuel.
At 3 feet high and around 55 pounds, the SpotMini can go where larger robots can’t. Its optional snake-like arm, which attaches where a real dog’s head would be, even lets SpotMini do things like open doors. That trick is reminiscent of a certain pair of dextrous velociraptors — and upping the eeriness factor even further, a SpotMini with its arm folded bears an entirely unwelcome resemblance to the bloodthirsty “Dog Alien” Xenomorph from Alien 3.
But this robot is, we are assured, here to help — and you could soon cross paths with it in many walks of life. According to Raibert, the same expansion port used by the arm will support add-on tools for varied applications, to be designed and produced by third parties. The original Spot was used in package delivery experiments, and SpotMini could provide a lower-risk alternative to the airborne delivery drones that have been tested by companies like Amazon.
The expansion of Boston Dynamics’ ambitions comes about a year after what could be seen as a setback. After being acquired by Google in 2013, the search giant sold the robot maker to Japan’s SoftBank in 2017. That decision seems to have been driven by uncertainty that Boston Dynamics could produce a marketable product, at a moment when Google was taking a more results-oriented stance toward its more speculative projects.