WALTHAM, Mass. — Boston Dynamics today released its Spot robot for commercial use. The company had spent years developing and refining the quadruped robot, whose online videos have been extremely popular.
Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992, and it developed BigDog for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The goal was to develop a robot that could operate in rough terrain alongside human soldiers and where wheeled robots could not. The SpotMini was a scaled-down, quieter version of the legged robot.
Google X acquired Boston Dynamics in 2013 and sold the company to SoftBank Group in 2017. In March 2019, Boston Dynamics showed off its Handle mobile manipulator, and in April, it acquired 3D vision startup Kinema Systems.
The company has been hiring for numerous positions as it geared up for the release.
Spot became a YouTube darling for its agility, as it walked, dynamically recovered from collisions, and climbed stairs and uneven surfaces.
Spot is semi-autonomous, with the ability to perceive in 360 degrees and model obstacles to walk around or over them and autonomously navigate. However, human operators can still provide higher-level guidance with a videogame-style controller.
It can travel at 1.6m/s (3.5 mph), and it can run for 90 minutes on a charge. (BigDog ran on gasoline, which provided more horsepower but also more noise.) Boston Dynamics has not specified if Spot would be safe to operate around the public. It is designed to be able to operate in rain and in temperatures ranging from -20°C to 45°C (-4°F to 113°F).
Four hardware modules can be used for different needs, such as long-range communications, gas sensing, or 3D mapping with lidar. With an optional arm with six degrees of freedom, Spot could also be a mobile manipulator, able to grasp small objects and open doors for itself. The robot has a 14kg (30.8 lb.) payload capacity.
Spot available for commercial use
Since being acquired by SoftBank, Boston Dynamics has promised to bring its robots to market, starting with Spot. It could be used to inspect construction and energy sites, as well as conduct remote observation in hazardous environments for public safety. Unlike its predecessors, Spot is not intended for military missions, said the company.
Boston Dynamics has created an application programming interface (API) and a software development kit (SDK) so that developers with experience building tasks for aerial drones or other robots can do so for Spot.
Other legged robots are intended as research platforms, such as MIT’s mini cheetah or Astro; for industrial inspection such as ANYmal C; or for search-and-rescue operations, such as the heavy-duty HyQReal.
Boston Dynamics told IEEE Spectrum that it is still scaling up manufacturing of Spot from “the early tens of robots” to a goal of 1,000 units per year.
Spot isn’t being sold to the general public, nor is pricing available, but companies interested in leasing the robot can fill out a form on Boston Dynamics’ website.
Atlas goes head over heels
The Robot Report also named Boston Dynamics as one of the “10 robotics companies to watch in 2019.”
The Robot Report is launching the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo will focus on improving the design, development, and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, and registration is now open.