In a new Boston Dynamics video, a four-legged robot ducks under tables and walks up stairs; it does the dishes with a giraffe neck and weird dinosaur head. It jogs down the hall and slips on banana peels. (Robots are rapidly surpassing humans at slapstick.) But when it shows off its flexibility? Wow. Gold medal. As Gizmodo commenter lostEngineer so aptly put it: “The robot apocalypse sure does look funky.”
Boston Dynamics is already well-known for its robot videos, and we’ve written about most of them. The company’s two-legged line of robots have kicked up fear (when walking the treadmill in fatigues) and empathy (when being shoved by a handler). But the four-legged robots are what got it all started in the first place.
The new robot, SpotMini, is the smallest yet.
While its larger cousins were made for the military to help soldiers carry heavy gear, SpotMini is clearly a different, more domestic breed. It’s electric, light, and seems capable of safely hanging out with humans. The addition of a long robotic arm gives it the ability to gently grab and place glasses or cans without crushing them. And one can only assume those googly eyes are the most advanced in the world.
According to Boston Dynamics, the all-electric SpotMini is their quietest robot yet and can run for 90 minutes per charge. It uses a suite of sensors to see, touch, and balance. But while the robot can handle some tasks on its own, it’s mostly being guided by a human behind the scenes.
The banana peel slip prompted another outpouring of empathy for our robot friends. But the point is to show its ability to get back up after an unexpected fall—which will no doubt happen out in the real world. Even just a year ago, falling and being unable to get back up was a serious shortcoming in some of the most advanced robots.
Maybe the most interesting (and mostly speculative) thing about about the video is the implied application for SpotMini. The setting for most Boston Dynamics videos has been outside or on treadmills or piles of rubble. These suggested applications in the field, whether for the military or in emergency situations.
SpotMini, on the other hand, is in a house, hanging out and interacting with humans and doing chores. Unlike its powerful and noisy predecessors—which use hydraulics and gas-powered engines—this robot is quiet and agile, which makes it more realistic for use at home.
Google (now Alphabet) acquired Boston Dynamics at the end of 2013, but recently, there have been rumors it’s looking to sell the company due to a lack of commercial direction. It could be SpotMini is a shot at something more affordable and practical for non-military uses.
But we’ll have to wait and see. There are, of course, more than a few hurdles between us and Rosie from the Jetsons.
Whatever happens, Boston Dynamics remains one of the coolest robot companies out there—and the undisputed champ of viral robot videos.