The robotic trend for this year and possibly next seems to involve our canine best friends, Sony recently reintroduced its iconic robotic dog Aibo to the market, and now Boston Dynamics’ has updated their SpotMini robot which is a fluid and advanced SciFi nightmare of a machine.
Boston Dynamics is now owned by SoftBank, a Japanese multinational, telecommunications and internet corporation which recently acquired the robotics company from Google. SoftBank is providing the means to promptly upgrade the machines from the former, skeletal framework we’re used to seeing from Boston Dynamics. Instead, this version of SpotMini has a sleek yellow, plastic housing.
SpotMini was last revealed in 2016, where it more resembled a small brontosaurus or giraffe, with a long neck that was able to reach and grab objects. It was built as a smaller version of the Spot Robot and weighed 55lbs; the bot is considered the quietest robot ever produced by the company and is intended for use in the office or home.
“It has a variety of sensors, including depth cameras, a solid state gyro (IMU) and proprioception sensors in the limbs. These sensors help with navigation and mobile manipulation. SpotMini performs some tasks autonomously, but often uses a human for high-level guidance,” write Boston Dynamics in their YouTube description of the first SpotMini.
The man-controlled latest model has been somewhat decapitated. Instead, it features a more extended and substantial body featuring quicker movement on long all-electric legs. The video teaser of the new model is merely seconds long, so it’s hard to gauge what the plans are for the final incarnation. It’s thought that this more modern version will perhaps have interchangeable accessories, though all Boston Dynamics will offer up is to “stay tuned” for more updates.
Despite the quick glimpse, the video is at the top of the trending charts on YouTube.
Aside from their four-legged robots, the company also develops humanoid machines, namely Atlas, a dynamic and hulking two-legged bot that can lift heavy objects and manage rough terrain using electric power and hydraulics. Created in 2013, Atlas was funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) with the aim of creating a bot with search and rescue capabilities.
By 2016 Atlas was able to do much more, Boston Dynamics released a video last year showing the newer 180 pound (82kg) version operating both indoors and outdoors. Utilizing sensors in its body and legs to balance, plus LIDAR (Light Imaging, Detection, And Ranging) and stereo sensors located at its head to avoid obstacles.
There have been a few slip-ups along the way; this year Atlas fell off the stage at the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders conference in Massachusetts.
Luckily, the newer version of Atlas can pick itself back up using a new algorithm developed by the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) which enables the robot to find its footing by shifting its weight using a newly installed support.
“This is an important step in the effort of making legged robots useful in real-world scenarios," reads the study authored by IHMC. "The ability to walk on unexpected partial footholds greatly increases the robustness of a robot when employed in cluttered environments. In addition, it vastly extends the set of environments a robot can traverse.”