WHAT BOSTON DYNAMICS DO?
Boston Dynamics focuses on building robots with increased mobility, agility and intelligence. We have long needed this mobility in order to have enough legs to reach both the natural and artificial world. We started pursuing this dream 30 years ago, first in academia and then within Boston Dynamics, because it was an exciting technological challenge and because it required our goal of building a highly mobile robot. We wanted to create a robot that could approach people. Commonly referred to as “boring, messy and dangerous” tasks that are not performed in a perfectly organized production hall, but in a natural and artificial environment. These are places that need to be skillfully moved along rocky paths, stairs, catwalks, doors, or narrow, chaotic paths to be effective.
While we draw inspiration from the natural world for our robots, functionality is at the core of design. Our robots move like humans and animals, not because we made them look like humans and animals, but because we have them in balance. Balance and locomotion are features that we previously observed only in animals. It is this biological quality of dynamically constant movement that people associate with movement throughout their lives. Due in part to the benefits of accelerating movement, our robots can navigate complex, unstructured, unknown, or hostile terrain with ease. Wheeled and tracked robots are limited by ladders, clearances, ground-level obstacles such as cables, and small height differences in materials and floors. These environments do not present such problems for robots on their feet.
ARE THE BOSTON DYNAMICS DANCING ROBOTS REAL?
It’s hard to believe your eyes when you see the Boston Dynamics robots take a step, albeit shocking, in the December 2020 video that rolled out new rounds on Twitter this weekend. But while there are many deeply fake and computer generated videos showcasing the incredible jugglers of Boston’s dynamic image (fighting people, for example), the dance moves in this video are 100% authentic.
Like the robot dancing after this video, which includes a coordinated dance with BTS this June to celebrate the acquisition of Hyundai.
But don’t be fooled—Spot and Atlas don’t know they’re dancing, Boston Dynamics Robotics’ Eric Whitman told a story about the project.
“Everything must be thought out in advance and written clearly,” Whitman said. “Robots have an advantage over humans in that they are easily reproducible: once you get it right, everything is perfect. But they have the disadvantage that they have to tell every little thing.” They don’t improve at all.”
HOW DO BOSTON DYNAMICS’ ROBOTS DANCE?
Rather than using artificial intelligence or even computer vision to understand their surroundings, these bots simply perform carefully programmed and designed dance routines.
Using a Boston Dynamics interface called Choreographer, engineers and designers drag and drop individual movements across more than 20 robot drives to decide how and when it will move in time.
Monica Thomas is a professional choreographer and dancer, she is largely responsible for the spontaneity of these robotic dances. In her story about the project, she said that one of her biggest problems was trying to think like a dancing robot.
Thomas said, “When I try to replicate the choreography on my body, my knees do not bend properly even when I get down on all fours.” “I know less of how things might look and therefore I have a lot more flexibility in how things look.”
But while dancing robots are a fun novelty and a creative outlet for Boston Dynamics engineers, Whitman said it also serves a practical purpose: to improve robot movement.
“Dance is a form of accelerated life cycle testing of instruments.”
Spot’s knees and stamina are just some of the qualities improved by prototyping and testing these dance moves.
From pirates to police, while the improvements in handling and dynamic movement achieved through these dance projects may propel Boston Dynamic Bots to TikTok’s glory, it is more likely that these improvements will be used for military and police robots. which are already in use today.
Both Massachusetts and New York have tested these police dogs (with mixed reviews from the public), and Honolulu recently invested in their site to patrol the city’s homeless camps.
So, during the robot rise, should you worry about these light-legged robots coming for you and your family? Possibly not. But you have to worry about approaching their most vulnerable neighbors.