In its latest display of engineering excellence, Boston Dynamics released a video of its Atlas, Spot and Handle robots boogieing to “Do You Love Me?” by the Contours, Stan Horaczek reports for Popular Science.
The video—equal parts fun, mesmerizing and uncanny—gives the impression that the machines saw an engineer do “the robot” and felt compelled to make a point: these robots have rhythm. In reality, humans had to write the code for each sway, swivel and squat in order to create the expertly choreographed demonstration.
The dance group features two humanoid Atlas robots, one four-legged yellow robot named Spot, and a large ostrich-like robot named Handle. Each shows off its own moves. Handle, created for moving boxes in warehouses, rolls across the frame on two wheels and bobs up and down.
Spot, the canine-like robot with a long, elbowed arm on top that’s good for opening doors, performs hops and twists as its front and back pairs of legs seem to perform independently of each other. It takes the chance to show off impressive stabilization skills when the robot holds its grabbing hand still while its body jumps around behind it. (Boston Dynamics already showed off Spot’s dancing skills in a 2018 video, where it did the “Running Man” among other moves, per Chaim Gartenberg at the Verge.)
There’s a pair of humanoid Atlas robots, which disco, shimmy, jump and step to the beat, smoothly building on videos from 2018 and 2019 of “Parkour Atlas,” which feature the robot jumping over obstacles and doing somersaults.
All of the videos show off the kind of coordination and dexterity that programmers can ask of their robotic minions. The latest video, with its high-quality videography and editing, is more consumer-friendly than previous, academic demonstrations of the robots’ progress. The transition might reflect the company’s steps toward commercial sales, reports Popular Science, since Spot hit the market for $75,000 last June.
But the videos also show the bots’ grooviest abilities.
“In our videos we typically show the very best behavior,” said Boston Dynamics chairman Marc Raibert to Wired’s Nicholas Thompson and Matt Simon in 2018. “It's not the average behavior or the typical behavior. And we think of it as an aspirational target for what the robots do.”
Robots like Spot have come a long way in the years since their earliest iterations. Compare Spot’s ballerina-like bourre—the tiny steps with crossed legs—to a 2009 video of an early Boston Dynamics robot called LittleDog. LittleDog moves one leg at a time as it slowly crosses a model of rocky terrain.
And a video of Atlas from 2013 shows the robot tethered to supports as it walks across rocky terrain with its arms held out for balance.
Boston Dynamics advertises the robots’ aptitude for tasks like inspecting dangerous regions, carrying objects and automatically collecting data. The company writes that Spot can be “adapted for tasks ranging from industrial inspection to entertainment,” so rocking out to music is not off the table for the robot’s future.