When Boston Dynamics introduced the world to their robotic ‘dog’, Spot, just over three years ago, the internet – and real dogs, for that matter – naturally had a conniption. Between Spot’s less-than-cuddly exterior, its ability to navigate hilly terrains and staircases, and its size (this wasn’t a Shih-Tzu, trust me), there was a level of incredulity at just how quickly we had reached the point where robotic dogs came to fruition.
If Spot wasn’t enough for casual observers to begin paying attention to Boston Dynamics’ ever-catapulting progress in the fields of engineering and robotics, a video of SpotMini, the next iteration in a natural evolution of robotic dogs, should once again pique their attention. Spot could walk up stairs and hills, but SpotMini can open your front door if you forget to lock it.
As Boston Dynamics explains on its website, “SpotMini is a small four-legged robot that comfortably fits in an office or home…SpotMini is all-electric and can go for about 90 minutes on a charge, depending on what it is doing. SpotMini is the quietest robot we have built.”
Plus, the SpotMini is faster and more flexible than the original Spot, with 17 joints upon which it can bend and twist. It has ‘beefed-up perception sensors’ and its ‘5 degree-of-freedom arm’ is what allows the SpotMini to grip, twist, and open a door handle. The array of sensors and cameras – which include stereo and depth cameras – work together to provide SpotMini data about its surroundings, information which it then uses to manipulate objects.
Certain outlets have already highlighted the similarities between Spot, SpotMini, and the malevolent robo-dogs that appeared in an episode of Black Mirror. While the comparison isn’t helping quell any internet hysteria that may arise from SpotMini’s latest YouTube demo, we have no reason to believe roving, rabid packs of SpotMinis will be coming to a city near you anytime soon.
That said, it’s not clear what Boston Dynamics – which was acquired by SoftBank from Alphabet in 2017 – plans to use the dogs for. Search and rescue helpers are just one plausible use that comes to mind. If all of the more practical ideas fail, it could let a few of its quadrupeds loose on the streets, if only for the entertainment value.