by Ben Chen ‘21
On September 24, 2019, BostonDynamics released a YouTube video advertising the official launch of Spot, a dynamic mobile robot that shook the internet. From construction to indirect monitoring to maintenance in unsafe areas (at least, unsafe for humans), Spot opens a path into the future with its efficient doglike body. In the constructors’ words, taken directly from the BostonDynamics website, Spot is “[a] nimble robot that climbs stairs and traverses rough terrain with unprecedented ease, yet is small enough to use indoors. Built to be a rugged and customizable platform, Spot autonomously accomplishes your industrial sensing and remote operation needs.” Previously, Spot (image below) was known for its “viral video exploits, where it has twerked to Bruno Mars and worked together in a pack to haul a truck across a parking lot.” (cnet)
In this video, BostonDynamics highlights Spot’s features that enable it to function in the wide range of applications mentioned above, such as Spot’s top speed of 3 mph (or 1.6 m/s), average runtime of 90 minutes, ability to navigate challenging terrain, 360 degree obstacle avoidance, swappable battery, 2 payload ports, 14-kg carrying capacity, crash protection, dynamic reaction, self-righting function (if it falls), operation in -20 to 45 ºC, and finally, IP54 rain and dust protection. Spot is also completely customizable, providing the user with even more versatility.
In the video description, BostonDynamics writes, “Early customers are already testing Spot to monitor construction sites, provide remote inspection at gas, oil and power installations, and in public safety. Spot is in mass production and currently shipping to select early adopters.”
Of course, it is important to note that the main purpose of the video is to advertise and introduce this new product, and so Spot may turn out to be a victim of sensationalism, “the presentation of stories in a way that is intended to provoke public interest or excitement, at the expense of accuracy.” (Lexico) This is especially apparent with the “commands” shown in the YouTube video, where the code is simplified into this format: SPOT.ACTION();, where ACTION can (seemingly) be replaced with commands such as GO, CONNECT, INSPECT, ENTERTAIN, and LAUNCH. To see a more realistic representation of the code that went into this project, visit https://www.bostondynamics.com/spot and scroll down.
It is not surprising to see multiple online news sources already covering BostonDynamics’s new product, asking the people at BostonDynamics directly about the subject matter. “Learning to drive the robot using its gaming-style controller ‘takes 15 seconds,’ says CEO Marc Raibert. He explains that while teleoperating Spot, you may not realize that the robot is doing a lot of heavy lifting. ‘You don’t really see what that is like until you’re operating the joystick and you go over a box and you don’t have to do anything,’ he says. ‘You’re practically just thinking about what you want to do and the robot takes care of everything.’” (IEEE Spectrum) In other words, instead of tediously coding every action, Spot’s commands are already preprogrammed into the joystick, optimizing Spot’s versatility.
However, this robot is not yet ready for widespread public use. As TechCrunch aptly puts it, “The early adopter program is lease-based rather than a straight purchase, but there’s no shortage of customers who want to own their Spot outright. The cost of one of the robots varies, but think tens of thousands of dollars — this isn’t a hobby bot.” Due to this limited accessibility, it will sadly take a little longer before the public can see their own Spots running around their homes.
“Spot Launch.” Video file, 02:01. YouTube. Posted by BostonDynamics, September 24, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlkCQXHEgjA.
Guizzo, Erico. “Boston Dynamics’ Spot Robot Dog Goes on Sale.” IEEE Spectrum, September 24, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2019. https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/industrial-robots/boston-dynamics-spot-robot-dog-goes-on-sale.
Kooser, Amanda. “Boston Dynamics launches Spot robot dog sales with splashyvideo.” CNET, September 24, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2019 https://www.cnet.com/news/boston-dynamics-launches-spot-robot-dog-sales-with-splashy-video/.
BostonDynamics. BostonDynamics. Accessed November 1, 2019. https://www.bostondynamics.com/spot.
Coldewey, Devin. “Boston Dynamics puts its robotic quadruped Spot up for sale.”TechCrunch, September 24, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2019. https://techcrunch.com/2019/09/24/boston-dynamics-puts-its-robotic-quadruped-spot-up-for-sale/