Boston Dynamics announced at TechCrunch’s Sessions Robotics 2018 at UC Berkeley last week that it would be offering for sale, 100 of their four-legged robots, named “SpotMini”, next year. At present the company has built 10 examples of these robots however with advances in technology, it is now possible to manufacture these robots more rapidly.
Boston Dynamics, known as the developer of the humanoid robot Atlas, was previously a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet. However, in 2017, Google sold the company to Japanese investment firm Softbank.
The 66 lb quadruped SpotMini has a number of cameras, including stereo cameras up front, on the side and a “butt-cam” out back. These cameras combined with other sensors help SpotMini navigate an area entirely on its own. This allows the robot to collect data on the area, the obstacles in the area, and the places which are safe for it to navigate. The robot can then move in the area safely without stumbling or bumping into obstacles or people. SpotMini has an onboard rechargeable battery good for 90 minutes of normal activity. When asked why they used a four-legged design over a wheeled version as others have done in the past, founder Marc Robert said, “There are lots of applications for legs, such as going up the stairwells in skyscrapers checking for things that should be left there. We’re also looking at construction. Whereas productivity in other areas has consistently gone up, in construction, it’s almost flat – no technology has really been brought to bear to help.”
In videos on YouTube produced by the company, the robot can be seen climbing stairs on its own, without bumping into railings, walking down hallways while avoiding obstacles, as well as helping people with tasks in the house, like putting a glass in the dishwasher and other household tasks. The robot could be used for business applications where humans cannot reach quickly or safely. It could be also used for security patrols and in construction sites where the risk of accidents will be far higher, due to debris and other factors. The robot has been designed to accept third-party hardware and software as well, including an articulated arm.
While Boston Dynamic has not speculated on the price, it is reasonable to assume based on its size and complexity, that SpotMini will be sold at a price point that will put it of the range of most consumers.