You may or may not have heard that Boston Dynamics, an offshoot of MIT, has provided nightmare fuel for all of us by making robots that perform tasks that both terrify and amaze us. The company recently revealed two new robots, SpotMini and Atlas. Spotmini has shown that it can navigate and open a door autonomously, while Atlas was spotted going for a run outside.
Boston Dynamics has a line of robots to its credit now, four of which we’ll discuss. These robots are electronically powered and can sense the environment around them and react accordingly. There are plenty of videos on the company’s YouTube channel showing just exactly what their creations can do.
Boston Dynamics’ Spot is a lightweight dog-like robot capable of navigating through inside and outside areas. Initially designed for transporting supplies over uneven ground, it was meant to provide aid in situations like disaster zones or search and rescue operations.
Spot is sure-footed and is virtually impossible to kick over. Even on icy terrain, the robot is able to remain upright when given a hard shove. Spot can operate for up to 45 minutes on one charge and can carry a payload of up to 50 pounds.
SpotMini, the successor to Spot, is another dog-like robot that will fit comfortably in your home. This robot weighs only 50 pounds and can go for roughly an hour and a half on a single charge. SpotMini has all of the abilities of Spot, with an added arm that sits atop its back to pick up objects or open doors.
You can also watch SpotMini navigate its way through an office and up and down a flight of stairs. Did I mention that it does this autonomously without human interaction or aid? Once it maps the route, Spot Mini has the ability to move to a specific destination, all while avoiding obstacles, walls, and any other obstructions that happen to lay in its path.
Did I mention that you can order one starting next year?
If the dog-like robots are scary enough, here’s one on wheels. Handle is a robot created by Boston Dynamics that is capable of navigating rough-terrain with its legs while being highly efficient on smoother terrain with its wheels. Handle can grasp and lift heavy loads while maneuvering around in tight areas. With its legs and wheels, Handle provides the best of both worlds.
Handle is an extremely energy efficient robot. It is capable of traveling up to 15 miles on a single charge. It also is extremely quick and agile, accelerating up to nine miles an hour in just a few seconds. Ideally, Handle will work alongside humans in a warehouse environment, performing all sorts of tasks.
Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot is fascinating and terrifying at the same time. A recently released youtube video (below) shows the robot jogging outside, as though it’s an everyday occurrence. At one point, the robot pauses to identify and jump over a log. Last year, a video was released of Atlas doing a backflip, so these things are getting pretty advanced.
This humanoid robot can control its arms, legs, and torso, which allows it to expand its workspace and reach. Atlas puts to use stereo vision and range sensing to travel on tough to navigate terrain, and manipulate obstacles in its environment. If you get brave enough to approach and knock over this robot, it has the ability to right itself and gets back up.
They’re Getting Faster
It’s true that Boston Dynamics will start selling its MiniSpot robots next year, but we’re still a ways off from having our own personal robotic assistants in our homes. That doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of performing some tasks at a faster rate than humans. Not to mention at a more efficient level.
For instance, there is now a robot available that can lay bricks three times faster than a human. And you may have heard about the robot that was able to put together an IKEA chair in a little over twenty minutes. Humans are still at the top of the ladder, even when figuring in the most recent advancements in robotics, but for how long?
Don’t Worry Just Yet
It is true that these robots are getting smarter, faster, and more efficient, which means they aren’t going anywhere. But according to Boston Dynamics, these robots are meant to work alongside humans, not replace them. The idea is to provide robots that collaborate with humans and provide assistance where necessary.
Assistance can come in the form of security for warehouses, locating survivors in the event of a disaster, or transporting food in an environment in which a human couldn’t survive. For now, we have the comfort of knowing that these robots are helpers, not hunters. The question is, when the time comes, who will tell them?
Featured image: CC0, by U.S. Department of Defense, via Wikimedia