Boston Dynamics, best known for its humanoid robot Atlas (last seen having learned a new gymnastics routine) has started to lease out one of its smaller robotic creations, “Spot”, which may have major uses within industrial environments.
Spot, loaded with a 360 camera, could be sent on a programmed tour of a construction site where it can scan and compare it to a building information model/digital twin. Spot will be able to visually detect any changes or deviations from the plan.
The robot weighs 25 kg. An arm which can grasp objects and open doors is optional and adds additional 5 kg to Spot’s total weight. It can move at a speed of 1.6 m/s and has a run time of 90 minutes; however the batteries can be swapped out.
The robot has 360 vision with stereo cameras that help it avoid obstacles. It has been designed with industrial environments in mind so it can take a bit of impact damage and operate between temperatures of -20 to 45 degrees Celsius.
Spot can be programmed via the Spot software development kit (SDK) that lets developers add features and capabilities through its accessible GRPC-based API and Python client library. It can also be controlled remotely.
There are obvious military and law enforcement applications that a remotely controlled Spot could be used for. Boston Dynamics has not moved in these directions and is instead focussing on industrial applications.
One area where the system is being tested is on isolated oil and gas rigs. The cost to send an engineer out to these locations is significant and companies are increasingly looking to build entirely automated and unmanned facilities.
Boston Dynamics says Spot can be used to inspect rig infrastructure.
Boston Dynamics Spot
The company has given little indication of the robot’s cost.
At the moment Boston Dynamics is not really selling it. Rather, they have opted to lease the robot out to companies who want to be part of the early adoption programme. The company has hinted that the price will be similar to that of a car and depends on how many features and Spots you want to lease.
Don’t expect to see Spots widely hitting commercial markets anytime soon. The technology is still in a somewhat nascent stage: while the videos are impressive, viewers are not seeing all the missing shots where the robot and its operating algorithms struggle and human invention is needed.
Yet this isn’t an old dog that can’t learn new tricks: as Boston Dynamics works with different industries the practical use cases for Spot will not only become clearer, but the firm will have amassed significant amounts of real world data that will no doubt improve Spot’s ability to work independently.
For a bit of fun and to show case how Spot can be programmed to perfom here is it dancing to Up Town Funk: “Don’t believe me just watch!”