Google’s Boston Dynamics Continues to Develop Creepy Robots

June 27, 2016 | Reece Alvarez

Spot Mini, a robotic dog by Boston Dynamics
Photo credit: Screenshot from video by Boston Dynamics

An age-old saying is you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but perhaps you can build a robot dog to do your dishes.

Google’s Boston Dynamics robotics company is continuing its deep dive into the world of robotics with its latest animal automaton, SpotMini.

But it is not so much the robot’s appearance as what it can do — and possibly be able to do in the future — that is so astounding.

The 65-pound robot is small enough to maneuver around a standard furnished home, ducking beneath tables, climbing steps, and displaying a wide range of maneuverability.

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In Boston Dynamics’ video introducing SpotMini to the world, the robo-dog is able to perform simple tasks like throwing out trash and loading a dishwasher.

While not exactly a full-scale demonstration, SpotMini does seem capable of handling fragile objects with sensitivity. Credit: Boston Dynamics

According to Boston Dynamics, SpotMini runs completely on electricity and does not use hydraulics to power its motion. It can run for up to 90 minutes on a single charge and is among the quietest robots the company has ever built.

Using various sensors, it can perform tasks on its own, “but often uses a human for high-level guidance,” according to a description on the company's YouTube channel.

The robot is in the lineage of other animal-like creations from the company, particularly the BigDog bot, which was shown in a 2013 video hurling a 35-pound cinder block with ease.

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Boston Dynamics’ BigDog robot. Credit: Boston Dynamics

If the cliche of a dog bringing their owner a newspaper is the standard of the past, perhaps having your mechanical dog clean your home will be the standard of the future.

Obvious applications for both creatures are numerous from household chores to post catastrophe debris removal, search and rescue and whatever else the human mind can imagine for better or worse.

But when or if Boston Dynamics’ robots ever become widely used will remain to be seen, as positive public perception for life-like robotics has yet to catch up with the awe they sometimes inspire.

Earlier this year, Bloomberg News reported that Boston Dynamics had been put up for sale by Alphabet, Inc, Google’s parent company following concerns about the line of products’ ability to produce revenue and possibly because many media outlets found them downright creepy.

Bloomberg quotes internal Google emails involving the company’s Director of Communications, Courtney Hohne as evidence of the company’s unease with public perception of the robots.

“There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” Hohne wrote according to Bloomberg.

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