It’s hard to be overly critical of a company that has consistently broken new ground in the field, producing robots such as Big Dog, Atlas and SpotMini. But having been founded in 1992, Boston Dynamics has never delivered a commercial product. Sooner or later, companies need to make money. It’s testament to the brilliance of CEO Marc Raibert and his team of engineers that investors to this point have been so patient. However, Alphabet’s sale of the company last year to SoftBank is likely to bring pressure for some returns - or at the very least a pathway to revenue - and Raibert gave a talk at MIT recently that hinted we may see some products in the not-too-distant future.
For now, though, we have to make do with being terrified by the advances the company is making in the lab. The latest batch of videos shows off new capabilities for Atlas and SpotMini, with the former taking a jog through the woods and the latter navigating around the Boston Dynamics offices autonomously. Atlas has previously shown off its ability to walk with stability on two legs, perform backflips, open doors and – in a clip that our robot overlords will undoubtedly make humanity pay for one day – recover from some mistreatment by its handlers. Now that Atlas has learned how to run, it’s surely only a matter of time before he and his ilk are rounding us into pens and knocking us over with poles just for fun.
The second video shows SpotMini undertaking an autonomous odyssey around the company’s Massachusetts HQ. According to Boston Dynamics, the robot had previously been led around the route by a handler to allow it to build up a map. Nonetheless, its ability to avoid obstacles and climb stairs is impressive, and provides more food for thought for those with dystopian leanings. In his MIT speech, Raibert stated that his goal is to create robots that have superior functionality to humans and animals. He’s not quite there yet, but his company’s videos still haunt people’s dreams. Robots with superior strength, agility, perception, cognition and dexterity are coming. A nightmare for some, perhaps, but potentially the dream ticket for the company’s investors.