Robotics

Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robot helps out around the house

Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robot with arm and manipulator deployed
Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robot with arm and manipulator deployed
View 7 Images
The SpotMini is a more advanced and compact version of the Spot robot
1/7
The SpotMini is a more advanced and compact version of the Spot robot
The SpotMini  crawling under spot
2/7
The SpotMini  crawling under spot
The SpotMini with its arm tucked away
3/7
The SpotMini with its arm tucked away
The SpotMini loading the dishwasher
4/7
The SpotMini loading the dishwasher
The SpotMini with streamlined casing
5/7
The SpotMini with streamlined casing
The SpotMini fetching a soda
6/7
The SpotMini fetching a soda
Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robot with arm and manipulator deployed
7/7
Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robot with arm and manipulator deployed

Boston Dynamics has gone from the battlefield to the home with a smaller, quieter quadruped robot that can navigate around the house and even fetch you a drink – if you can get it to let go of the can. The focus of a new video released today, the SpotMini is a more compact and streamlined version of the Spot robot unveiled in 2015 and boasts an articulated arm with a manipulator that looks like a cross between a sheep's head and an oven mitt.

The video, which is presented without narration, shows the comparative size of the SpotMini compared to the previous Spot iteration, its relatively quiet operation, and its ability to easily crawl under the legs of its predecessor and under a table. In addition, it can negotiate a crowded dining room, climb stairs, and get up again after taking a fall after its human colleagues have thoughtlessly left banana peels on the floor.

Along with its nimbleness, the SpotMini demonstrates its ability to use its arm to load a dishwasher and throw out garbage as well as do a strange little dance while its manipulator maintains its position in midair. The video even shows the robot bringing a human a can of soda then playing tug of war for possession of the can in a very robodog-like fashion.

The SpotMini fetching a soda
The SpotMini fetching a soda

According to Boston Dynamics, the SpotMini weighs in at only 55 lb (25 kg) or 65 lb (29 kg) with the arm. Unlike previous Boston Dynamics robots, the SpotMini lacks hydraulics and its all-electric systems make it the quietest the company has yet produced. It runs on an internal battery for up to 90 minutes and has stereoscopic depth cameras, a solid-state gyro, and sensors that allow it to determine what position its limbs are in. Its creators say that although it can carry out many tasks autonomously, it still needs humans for high-level guidance.

You can see the SpotMini strutting its stuff in the video below.

Source: Boston Dynamics

Introducing SpotMini

5 comments
Daishi
I admit to being religiously against legs on robots but I'm surprised this thing is only 65 lbs and it actually looks pretty cool. I still see a huge gap between cost vs usefulness so it seems like Boston Dynamics is destined to just bleed money for 15 or so more years. I'm still disappointed in the robotics industry for not putting more effort behind solving things like autonomous indoor navigation because it's something that could be done with a few inexpensive sensors and most of the heavy lifting done in software. You could take an Amazon Echo or Google Home with a camera and some wheels and use it for home security, telepresence, checking on the house while away etc. There is some application that could be started and expanded upon over time but nobody is going to buy something like that until the problem of an inexpensive mobility platform is solved. Some day the applications that exist on such a platform could be worth the expense of buying a boston dynamics platform for a household (for close to what a car costs) but until the applications are there that won't happen. The Asus Zenbo might be one of the closer attempts I have seen at a viable household robot. A lot of the problems that need to be solved are in software but once that is mature it would be viable to move that application/intelligence to something like the Boston Dynamics SpotMini seen here. Google owns many of the pieces to that puzzle (Android, Tango, Home, Chromecast) already. It will be a while before AI reaches human capability but an AI dog that doubles as a telepresence system and security sentry? That might not be that challenging to design in software and I would probably buy one. I'm sure there could be commercial application for it too. Since it would be networked it could communicate with motion sensors to make it easy for it to greet people at the door.
MattII
Impressive performance, but that's sure to come with a high cost, and the 90 minutes battery life is a bit of a turn-off.
Barabas
If only the cost of the robot came down to the reasonable interval. I could imagine for e.g. a Japanese businessman rushing to work while somebody in India or China loading his dishwasher, hangs out the clothes to dry etc. in his home remotely with a robot. He could have a live stream from the cameras for safety reason and would have a power cut off right at any time. The money compensation could be then wire transferred to the remote helper.
Daishi
@Barabas That sounds more frightening than anything. Somehow one that just walks around with a screen, camera, and microphone seems less threatening if remotely controlled over the Internet than one able to do dishes and chores around the house remotely. If a person piloting could load a dishwasher, do laundry, and cook it could kill your in your sleep too. If people regularly compromised very secure databases of credit cards and passwords from major companies taking great effort to protect them what stops someone or a rogue employee from gaining access to the contracting company with access to a couple thousand of these things with client information and remote control credentials saved to a spreadsheet on a share drive and having their way with them? Sophisticated groups or even state sponsored hackers could take out 15 or 20 targets before anyone even realizes the data was compromised and they would leave no trace back to themselves. I think even I would be able to compromise them. If you have ever read up on the Equation Group some people call "omnipotent" you would come to understand that you could never secure something like that from them gaining accessing to it and circumventing most failsafes. Even though you could chain it down at night to prevent someone on the Internet from using it to kill you with thousands of them out there and attacks being rare people would become complacent and most people wouldn't bother.
WolfeSA
@Daishi, very good summary, explains a lot. Unless they want to remain a niche rich 'toy' manufacturer the price will have to work. @Barabas, ok now I'm officially freaked out. I live in a country that's tipping towards a securocrat state and coping with current risks is enough of a burden. :-)