Dancing robots and Boston Dynamics

2021/ 09/04

In the world of robotics, Boston Dynamics is one of the best-known companies as a private company, that makes legged robots mostly for experimental purposes. YouTube videos of their robots and projects are going viral on the Internet, the company has many fans and followers.

This video below came out in this January, in case you haven’t seen it, watch it now, it is certainly going to make you smile.

 

 

The history of Boston Dynamics

The company was founded in 1992 in the USA and has remained a private company since then. They always had generous patrons from the start, such as the U.S. Department of Defense or the Alphabet, the Google’s parent company who contracted them for several projects and research. Even the Pentagon signed a contract with them in order to get cutting-edge legged robots, similar to the one named BigDog, but the army refused to take them, because they were too noisy. In 2013 Google X bought Boston Dynamics and then in 2017 it got into the hands of the Japanese tech giant Softbank Group. The resources of Softbank have allowed the company to make more practical and useful robots with high-tech gear, which then could be introduced to the market. Their first commercialized robot was Spot, in 2019, which will hopefully become the ‘Android of robotics’, that could be customized in order to fulfill the demands of users. Since then, another robot of theirs, Pick, is also available on the market, which is able to detect and sort boxes. It is fixed to the ground, so it doesn’t have legs, but works very precisely. 80% of Boston Dynamics stocks were bought by Hyundai in the end of 2020.

Legged robots

Boston Dynamics creates legged robots from the beginning, their goal is to make machines that have advanced mobility and dexterity so they could go wherever humans can. They could maneuver and complete given tasks in real industrial environment or in nature. In contrary to wheeled robots, not even the bumpy ground, staircases or doors would be an obstacle to them. 

The developers take the natural world as inspiration for the processes, but the similarity of their robots and animals isn’t a matter of design, but functionality. They state that the design is only motivated by practicality and operability and the balance can be best reached by implementing the characteristics of a dog for example. While walking, for people with muscles and reflexes is really easy and basic, in robotics it is a great challenge achieving balanced walk movements. For these purposes, Boston Dynamics does plenty of research and also uses trial and error methods. With these processes, they can correct the robots’ movement calculations effectively and can specialize them to different environments. 

In the video above, not only dancing robots are entertaining, but also very futuristic, and one could believe that they are moving to the rhythm by themselves. In fact, they are just following a relatively simple choreography programmed by people. Contrary to popular belief, their robots aren’t self-controlled, they can only perform human programmed movements automatically, but can be interrupted by a controller anytime. They don’t use artificial intelligence, except Spot who uses low-level intelligence which is only used for perceiving objects and surfaces.

Their famous robots

Spot

Spot is a 25 kg 84 cm tall, four-legged robot which was primarily made for observing and exploring terrains, even dangerous or hazardous places. Built-in cameras help them navigate, but they can be directed from a tablet. Besides these, they are able to memorize a series of movements, so they can repeat those exactly the same way whenever you want them to. They are very agile and stable, and can also carry 14 kg weights. They can be customized, you can choose from several tools and accessories for example thermographic cameras or laser distance meters before purchasing the model.

Pick

Pick is a stable and fixed robot, which can be best applied in warehouses, because it is specialized to detect and move boxes. With several settings it is able to sort boxes by colors, sizes or labels. Its image processing is really fast so it can work effectively and continuously. Besides Spot, this is the only other purchasable robot at the company.

Handle

Handle is an improved and wheeled version of Pick, that is also able to carry and organize boxes and objects besides working next to the production lines. It is scheduled to be available for commercial purchase in 2022.

Atlas

Atlas is currently the most dynamic humanoid robot in the whole world, an advanced control system and state-of-the-art hardware give the robot the power and balance to demonstrate high-level mobility and agility. Despite its ca. 1.5 m height and 80 kg weight, it can jump, run and can even perform somersaults. Atlas means a perfect research platform for developers who would like to create a robot with human-level agility. So this robot is only for experimental and research purposes, but still we can admire it in Boston Dynamics’ YouTube videos.

 

The growth and improvement of Boston Dynamics is unquestionable, they have been a research and development company from the beginning, and now they even sell products on the market. These robots are primarily for industrial application and for research purposes, but they are planning to create a variant of Spot for in-home application until 2022. As we mentioned, the robots do not use artificial intelligence, but AI would definitely bring a breakthrough in robotics and also on the market, but it seems like we have to wait for it a little more.

Forrás: Boston Dynamics, The Verge, IEEE Spectrum

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