It's hard to stop looking at that dog. It rises on the hind legs and moves the front as if it were a boxer. He jumps to one side with two legs, moves the whole body without moving what his head seems, is even able to catch a glass of wine.
And it does not bark and strictly follows the orders of its owner, who handles it with a joystick. It is SpotMini, which will be the first commercial robot of the company Boston Dynamics. Its president, Marc Raibert, presented the mechanical dog for the first time in Europe at the IROS 2018 Congress, which is being held this week in Madrid.
The price of SpotMini is still a mystery. A recent article from New York Times it revealed that it would cost "like a car"
Boston Dynamics is a company founded in 1992, famous for its secrecy and sporadic videos on YouTube where robots like SpotMini walk in the snow, move boxes on a mechanical tape and orient themselves inside a warehouse. The company has created an aura of fascination by revealing little information. Raibert, 68 years old and with one of his eternal Hawaiian shirts, has come to Madrid on a fleeting trip and without giving interviews to the press.
His goal, he said in the first central conference of IROS after the inauguration of King Felipe, is that "robots do the same as animals and humans." The examples of nature that Raibert chooses to imitate are not simple: mountain goats and young people doing Parkour. He Parkour It is a kind of sport that consists in running around the city jumping cars, walls, houses and all kinds of obstacles.
But, for the time being, now is the time for SpotMini, the first Boston Dynamics robot that can be commercially viable. Raibert has argued that companies must combine basic research to solve major problems with commercial application. It has taken him 26 years to complete it. And it remains to see the success of this robot of 28 kilos and 90 minutes of autonomy. Boston Dynamics is owned by the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank (formerly from Google), which seems not to hurry Raibert to turn his dream into dollars. The price of SpotMini is still a mystery. A recent article from New York Times it revealed that it would cost "like a car".
SpotMini will be a platform, such as Android or the AppStore, for which developers can create their own hardware or software. Raibert has taught very recent collaborations of SpotMini with a Japanese construction company: SpotMini goes up and down the floors of a large building under construction to take high resolution images with a special device that carries over the spine. To move autonomously, however, you must have the space of the work mapped. "SpotMini has run 160 kilometers with its own control in areas mapped for him," Raibert said.
SpotMini has brought small packages to homes of Boston Dynamics employees in their city, Boston. It is a claim for the increasing distribution of packages. But due to the variety of stairs, obstacles and doors, SpotMini does not always reach the home that it should: "We are now 75% successful," said Raibert. Not all doors have a manageable latch.
The holy grail of the applications
In expectations of commercialization for robots, Raibert sees three types of term. First, for today, as is the case of SpotMini, which will be sold in 2019: emergency response (earthquakes, tsunamis), security in construction and entertainment. Second, for the near future: logistics in warehouses and distribution of packages. Third, for a future further away: to help clean at home or in the most daily tasks and, "the holy grail of the applications" according to Raibert, the care of the elderly. Millions of Americans spend half of their time caring for older people. If a robot is able to replace them, the business opportunity is extraordinary.
Spotmini is the first commercial robot from Boston Dynamics. But its finest technology is in another product: the humanoid Atlas. "It's like our racing car, where we put the top technology, it's more fragile and more expensive," Raibert said. Atlas weighs like a human, climbs stairs, walks the mountain, falls more than a human, moves boxes (with little precision, light weight and two thirds of the speed of a human) and in a video is able to run and jump to several levels inside the laboratory, as if doing Parkour. Raibert smiled as he watched him jump. SpotMini is just one more step in the robotic perfection that is the goal of your life.