Innovation in robotics has turned life-like humanoid robots into reality, but now there’s a more lovable option available, with man’s best friend in robotic form. Boston Dynamics, a proven leader in robotics technology recently introduced its four-legged, dog-like robot named SpotMini. As shown in the now-viral preview video, it’s like having a furry companion with the ability to do chores for you without the mess, and it might just create a new wave of domestic robots.
With four bendable legs and a long, hinged, giraffe-like neck, SpotMini looks like a strange animal hybrid. Aside from the obvious differences in size and stature, SpotMini stands out from other robots with its unique movements and design. Up until this point, two-legged robots have typically been powered by hydraulics, which gives them more power and a longer lifespan. SpotMini, however is entirely electric. While this means that it can only run for around 90 minutes per charge, depending on the activities it is performing of course, it also makes the robot more lightweight and agile. After all, a household pet robot doesn’t need the same power or force of larger robots. The electric power also makes SpotMini one of the quietest robots available, perhaps leading the way for a more silent robotic generation.
A four-legged robot can be smaller than other robots, shown by the fact that Spot Mini is Boston Dynamics’ smallest yet and weighs in at just 55 pounds (65 pounds including its long arm). Its smaller size makes it easier for SpotMini to contort and move in all kinds of directions, instead of being limited to simple forward and backward paths its two-legged peers.
Even the most innovative robots still have a tendency to be stiff in their movements, but SpotMini has incredible flexibility, which allows for more fluid movement. The video even shows SpotMini tripping and falling on a banana peel and then righting itself from off the ground—a huge development over other robots that would likely be stuck on the floor until a human came by to help. SpotMini is also incredibly delicate for a robot, which allows it to perform more domestic tasks, such as moving glasses or cans without squishing them.
Movement and Usability
SpotMini isn’t entirely autonomous and often requires a human for high-level guidance, like when it’s trying a new task or interacting with a variety of objects. The robot has an array of sensors that allow for its wide range of movement. It uses depth cameras to sense its proximity to other objects, a solid-state gyro, and proprioception sensors in the limbs to move and perform tasks with surprising cognizance of its surroundings.
Boston Dynamics was acquired by Google’s Alphabet in 2013 and could possibly be shifting towards more commercial robots instead of traditional military robots. With its lightweight design, agility, and friendly demeanor, it doesn’t seem far-fetched for SpotMini or an evolution of SpotMini to be a household staple in just a few years’ time. While many other robots are designed for defense or scientific purposes, SpotMini focuses on smaller, more convenience-oriented tasks. Instead of defusing bombs or firing artillery like other robots, SpotMini is instead shown loading the dishwasher, recycling cans, and delivering items to humans in a house.
Boston Dymanics has gotten a lot of attention for its two-leg robots, especially for one shown walking on a treadmill wearing camouflage and looking particularly life-like and terrifying. A four-legged robot may have many similar technological aspects, but it can perform different tasks and has a unique feel. After all, many homeowners are more likely to invite a dog-like robot into their home than they are a full-size humanoid robot, if for nothing else than the four-legged model just seems cuddlier and friendlier.
Experts and consumers alike agree that robots definitely have the most potential for huge leaps in technological progress, and we could soon be seeing them used in a variety of situations. SpotMini’s contribution to the robotics evolutionary scale, however, is a little friendlier and more inviting.