Whether you love them or hate them, robots are real and we may see more of them very soon. Boston Dynamics, the makers behind the yellow four-legged robot Spot, is now allowing any US company to buy its own robot for USD74,500 (about RM318,525).
Though it has a high price tag, it is well deserved given that this is one of the most advanced mobile robots in the world. As countless YouTube videos have demonstrated, Spot is a very nimble 30kg robot that is able to go where wheeled robots can’t. It can climb stairs and navigate rough terrain outside.
Spot is also said to be capable of carrying up to 14kg of weight. It has on-board cameras that provide it 360-degree vision, allowing it avoid obstacles on its own as it navigates programmed routes on its own or when it is piloted remotely. The robot is able to autonomously recover from falls and is able to get back onto its feet.
According to Boston Dynamics, Spot’s enhanced mobility and onboard sensors make it well suited for a variety of jobs for industrial and commercial companies. Applications for Spot include documenting construction progress, monitoring remote or hazardous environments, and even helping triage Covid-19 patients.
Spot was recently used in Singapore where it patrolled a park in the city state and broadcast a recorded message that reminded park visitors to observe social distancing rules. The robot was on trial for two weeks was part of a collaboration between Singapore’s National Parks Board and Government Technology Agency.
Spot is said to have a top speed of 4km/h and an average run time of 90 minutes. It has a swappable battery so users can carry a spare in the field to help it operate for longer periods of time. An additional battery is said to cost USD4,620 (about RM19,752). The company adds that the robot is IP54 rated, which makes it rain and dust protected. It is said to be able to operate at temperatures between -20°C to 45°C.
Boston Dynamics said it is continuously improving Spot even as it is released for sale to customers. It said its engineers will continue to work on upgrading the robot as it gets feedback from customers. Its engineers are working on a software update, Spot 2.0, that will grant users the ability to remotely control the robot. It is also working on a head-mounted robot arm that would allow Spot to open doors, turn valves and hit switches.
Now that may sound alarming given that we have seen quadrupedal robots depicted as efficient murder bots in fiction. The Black Mirror episode Metalhead comes to mind. Boston Dynamics has said it will enforce a code of use for the robot that includes no weapon attachments and no use of it to harm people.
But there is no real way to stop malicious use of the robot once it is sold. You need not look further than the misuse of commercial drones as weapons, with some being used as remote bombs.
Controversially, the company is not ruling out selling Spot to security firms or law enforcement agencies. Boston Dynamics does not seem to be concerned that the robot would be used for harm as a determined opponent can quickly incapacitate and knock it over. There is a case where Spot was used as a bomb disposal robot on the Massachusetts State Police’s bomb squad.
At present Boston Dynamics said Spot is still not a mass production robot and is still a limited product. Interested customers are limited to buying just two robots at a time while large orders need to be discussed with the company.
The company said it will continue to lease Spot robots to customers in select international markets though its Early Adopter Program. To date it has leased a total of 150 robots. For more information or further inquiries on Spot go to the company’s website.