Robotics already represent a major disruptive technology in a wide swath of industries, in tasks ranging from production lines to consumer interactions. But to date, the role that robot dogs might serve for businesses and firms remains unclear. For companies like Boston Dynamics and its competitors, this is about to change. Boston Dynamics’ Spot the robot canine has been put to work as a sort of roving webcam, and his work has inspired discussion over new robotic applications.
Introducing Spot the Robot
For some time now, videos of Spot the robot have been circulating, stimulating fascination and intrigue. Boston Dynamics, located in Waltham, Massachusetts, introduced its robot dog some time ago. Developed with a flexible platform allowing companies to adjust functionalities according to needs, Spot the robot doesn’t serve one function. Instead, purchasers can utilize the robot dog’s impressive kinematics to accomplish several potential tasks. All that is required is designing specific application software to guide and instruct Spot the robot for a particular endeavor.
However, Spot the robot has been in search of a company home for a while. But that recently changed when HoloBuilder equipped the robot dog with reality capture platform software. This software allows Spot the robot to collect 360-degree images of construction sites, which saves engineers significant time and effort. And with some initial mobility training performed via remote control, the robot dog is able to work autonomously. As a result, HoloBuilder is now working with a handful of construction companies utilizing Spot the robot’s capabilities.
Bold Opportunities for Robot Dogs Ahead
In essence, Spot the robot has some unique capabilities. For one, it is able to carry up to 14 kilograms of supplies and materials on its agile frame. Likewise, it can explore challenging environments—including those that are wet, dusty, confined and even toxic. Understanding this detail, its use as a construction site imaging hound is likely just the tip of the iceberg for its future. The fact that Spot the robot is programmable and can be operated via remote control definitely offers some advantages. But it will be up to specific companies and organizations to determine precisely how the robot dog might be used.
One of the most obvious uses of robot dogs involves their ability to carry supplies and materials. For example, LLAMA (Legged Locomotion and Movement Adaptation) robots are expected to help carry supplies and ammunition for military troops. This robot was developed by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. Other potential uses for Spot the robot include search-and-rescue missions, bomb disposals, and hazmat remediations. And robot dogs could also play a part in remote data collection, access to confined spaces, and security protections. And despite its limited use to date, a number of possible tasks could be performed by Spot the robot in the future.
Rising Competition Among Robot Dog Manufacturers
One indicator that robot dogs might soon have multiple uses is the recent increase in competition that Boston Dynamics faces. Several startups are actively pursuing similar robots in addition to those being developed by the military. For example, ANYbotics, a Swiss company, has introduced a robot dog called ANYmal. Unitree Robotics, a Chinese robotics startup, has two robot dogs available. And Ghost Robotics recently introduced its own robotic canine called Vision. The Vision model has already been used by one of the teams in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge this year.
While the business competition for Spot the robot is increasing, universities are also getting in on the game. At Zhejiang University in eastern China, a research team has developed a robot dog with advanced abilities. In addition to having superior sensors, this robot dog can jump 1.5 meters high, jump through hoops, and even head a ball. By comparison, Spot the robot is much slower and less adept. And while Spot the robot can learn to navigate independently, other robot dogs are anticipated to likely be more autonomous. As a result, the capabilities of future models of these robots could accelerate their use from a practical perspective.
The Future Ahead for Spot the Robot
At the current time, the biggest obstacle for companies that want to employ Spot the robot is cost. Though the exact price has not been quoted, it is estimated to be around the price of a new luxury car. As a result, Boston Dynamics offers a leasing program. However, specific applications must still be either purchased or developed for a company’s precise needs. Fortunately, with the advancing competition, these obstacles should progressively improve in time. And if these robot dogs can create greater efficiencies and quality results, then they will naturally receive increasing attention. It’s simply a matter of time before Spot the robot and his fellow robot dogs find their way home.