Boston Dynamics, a robotics company owned by Google that’s reportedly being sold off, released a new video of its robot named Mini Spot.
Among other things, the raptor-looking robot is shown running around outside, manoeuvring around objects in a home, and climbing up some stairs.
But perhaps the most interesting thing Spot Mini is shown doing is carefully picking up a wine glass and loading it into the dishwasher.
Check it out:
This particular task caught my eye because it showed just how skilled the robot is at handling delicate objects. This is important because in order for robots to safely operate around humans — whether in the home or in public — they must be capable of sensing their environment and knowing their own force.
For example, say you want a robot to go into your fridge and bring you a beer bottle. The robot will first need to locate the beer, push objects out of the way without breaking them, and then pick it up with the right force so that it doesn’t break the glass.
These kind of movements are natural to us, but are difficult for robots.
The video clearly shows that Boston Dynamics has made huge strides towards making robots safe enough to be around humans and manoeuvre around a house, which could be one reason Toyota is so interested in buying the company from Google.
Last month, we reported that Toyota was closing in on a deal to acquire Boston Dynamics from Google. If the deal goes through, Boston Dynamics would likely be folded into the company’s research arm, which is called the Toyota Research Institute.
Last week, the institute announced it is currently working on robots that can take care of the elderly.
John Hanson, national manager of Toyota’s communications, told Tech Insider at the time of the announcement that the company’s robots will be incredibly “delicate” and “sophisticated,” capable of safely handling elderly people that are “very frail.”
Here are his comments in full:
“Think of how delicate a robot will have to be in the future. For example, to give an older person who is very frail a shower. How do you carefully lift them, position them, make sure they’re safe in order to give them a shower and then dry them off, help them with their clothes? That’s a pretty sophisticated machine and it requires a bit of machine learning to get to that point.”
The fact that Mini Spot can handle wine glasses so carefully could be a major asset for Toyota. If these robots can determine the appropriate force necessary for handling something as delicate as a wine glass, then it could be improved to the point where it knows how to care for humans appropriately.
But a deal hasn’t gone through yet, and it’s interesting Boston Dynamics released a video of a robot primarily doing household chores since that was a source of tension between the robotics division and Google.
Former Boston Dynamics employees told Tech Insider in May that Google was pushing the division to create a quiet household robot that could work around the house. That rubbed some Boston Dynamics employees the wrong way, considering they wanted to continue doing research and development.
So we could see this going either way. Perhaps Boston Dynamics is working on a household robot for Google, after all. Or maybe it’s preparing to use Mini Spot’s newfound skills in robots for the Toyota Research Institute.
Either way, it’s interesting to see a robot not only do household chores, but handle them delicately and with ease.