Boston Dynamics’ four-legged, dog-like robot Spot has been an internet sweetheart for years, and now it’s available for businesses to purchase.
With a price tag of $74,500 and some safety concerns left to work out, the yellow robot is not yet ready to join family homes. But after a successful “Early Adopter” program, which started last fall and allowed 150 businesses and individuals to test out Spot for themselves. Spot robots have been tested on construction sites and oil rigs, and even enforce social distancing. After Boston Dynamics made a few upgrades, Spot 2.0 is now ready to join the workforce.
“We mostly sell the robot to industrial and commercial customers who have a sensor they want to take somewhere they don’t want a person to go,” Zack Jackowski, Boston Dynamics’ lead robotics engineer, said to the Verge’s James Vincent last week. “Usually because it’s dangerous or because they need to do it so often that it would drive someone mad. Like carrying a camera around a factory 40 times a day and taking the same pictures each time.”
Per CNN’s Jordan Valinski, Spot moves at about 3.5 miles per hour, has a 360 degree range of vision, is both dustproof and waterproof. It can withstand temperatures as low as negative four degrees and up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit. The robot can be controlled at a distance, which allowed it to herd sheep in New Zealand, Rich Haridy at New Atlas reported in May. And, importantly, it won’t get bored. While documenting a construction project in Quebec, Canada, a Spot robot captured almost 5,000 photos each week, Andrew Liszewski reports for Gizmodo. Earlier this year, Adam Savage shared his experience testing an early-adopted Spot.
For now, commercially available versions of Spot are best at surveying projects like that, Vincent writes for the Verge this week. Updates are in the works to release an attachable robotic arm that will allow Spot to open doors, press buttons and pull levers. As robots like Spot become more capable, Boston Dynamics hopes that they can replace humans in dangerous roles in order to keep workers safe.
Spot itself poses some risk to humans, though, and selling it as an industrial tool shows that Boston Dynamics understands that risk, Gizmodo reports. Speaking to the Verge last week, Boston Dynamics engineer Sam Seifert recalled an incident when a passerby gave Spot a bear hug.
“People unfamiliar with robots want to treat Spot like a dog, and calmly approaching a dog before bending over for pets and hugs is a reasonable thing to do,” Seifert told Verge. “Thankfully no one got hurt, but Spot has some really powerful motors and a lot of pinch points.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Boston Dynamics employees working on Spot took versions of the 71-pound robot home for work, and learned to warn others to keep a safe distance from the device.
The company is also making a concerted effort to prevent Spot from being used maliciously. Speaking to Gizmodo, the Boston Dynamics Field Applications Lead, Seth Davis, explains that a clause in the user agreement for Spot “prohibits the use of robots from harming people, or simulating harming people.”
In practice, this means that Boston Dynamics won’t sell Spot to businesses that intend to use it to harm or intimidate others and won’t allow any weapons attachments for the robot. But Boston Dynamics admits that there are limits to its ability to vet buyers.
“If there’s a harmful use, then the license would be invalidated, and the customer wouldn’t be able to use the robot,” Michael Perry, Boston Dynamics’ vice president of business development, tells the Verge. “But obviously, there’s not a lot that we can do ahead of time beyond validating that the purchase is valid, and that the person buying the robot is not on the Department of Commerce watch list or anything along those lines.”
The company is focused on selling Spot to businesses that need something more nimble than a robot that could move along a track or on wheels. But businessowners should keep in mind that the cost of a new technology goes beyond its initial price tag.
“People who are the decisionmakers in industry may be perfect at their job but do not always have a grasp of robotics, the capabilities and limitations, and can buy into hype the same way the rest of us can.” says Cal Poly San Luis Obispo roboticist Julie Carpenter, of the Ethics and Emerging Sciences Group, to Wired’s Matt Simon. “You have, of course, all the costs of retraining employees, supporting employees, because their work will have changed, using a tool that's complicated.”