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Unemployed Robot Can Open Doors, If the Doors Have the Right Handles



(p. B1) WALTHAM, Mass. -- Moving like a large dog, knees bent and hips swaying, the robot walked across a parking lot and into a rain puddle.

There, it danced a jig, splashing water across the asphalt. Then it turned and trotted toward a brick building, climbing over a curb and stopping within inches of a floor-length window. Pausing for several seconds, it seemed to eye its own reflection in the glass.

The scene was mesmerizing -- so mesmerizing, it was easy to forget that a woman was guiding the four-legged machine from across the parking lot, a joystick in her hands and a laptop computer strapped to her waist.

The robot was called SpotMini. It was designed by Boston Dynamics, a company widely known for building machines that move like animals and humans. Thanks to a steady stream of YouTube videos from the otherwise secretive robotics lab, its machines have become an internet phenomenon.

But YouTube fame has not translated to very much revenue. In the coming year, Boston Dynamics, which was founded in 1992, plans to start selling the SpotMini, its first commercial robot. The mechanical dog would be a turning point for an outfit that has bewildered people with both its wondrous technology and its seeming lack of interest in making things someone -- anyone -- would actually want to buy.

Even now, it is not entirely clear what someone would do with one of these robots. That makes it hard to get past a question people have been asking about Boston Dynamics for years: Is this a business or a research lab?


. . .


(p. B4) Walking through the Boston Dynamics lab, Mr. Raibert, 68, wore bluejeans and a Hawaiian shirt, as he does nearly every day. He wants to build robots that can do what humans and animals can do. That was his aim in the early 1980s, when he founded the Leg Lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. And it was his aim when he moved the lab to M.I.T.


. . .


No machine comes closer to his vision than Atlas, a 165-pound anthropomorphic robot that can run, jump and even do back flips. Mr. Raibert would not let us shoot video of Atlas or other robots while inside the lab. But he did give a brief demonstration of the machine.

Like the SpotMini, Atlas is controlled by a joystick, a laptop computer and a wireless radio. When Mr. Raibert signaled for the demo, an engineer touched the joystick and the 165-pound robot crashed to the floor. Atlas is so large and so lifelike, you feel bad for it.


. . .


SpotMini is smaller and cheaper and has better balance than Atlas. It can carry (small) items on its back, and it can open doors (provided the doors have the proper handles). This requires an extra limb that attaches between its shoulders.



For the full story, see:

Cade Metz. "'For Sale: One Robot In Search Of a Job." The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 21, 2018, and has the title "'These Robots Run, Dance and Flip. But Are They a Business?")






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