In its quest to develop functional — and sometimes terrifying — robots, Boston Dynamics has unleashed a veritable petting zoo of futuristic-looking machines.
In recent years, the tech company, owned by Japan’s SoftBank Group, has released videos showing dog-like robots unloading dishwashers and climbing stairs, galloping Bovidae-like creatures that can run move faster than Usain Bolt, and a mesmerizing humanoid robot that leaves some YouTube viewers convinced that a robot takeover is imminent.
In its latest video, the first to surface in about five months, a Boston Dynamics robot has acquired a new form, one that resembles an emu. Despite its large size — it’s six feet tall and weighs 231 pounds — the wheeled machine glides across a warehouse floor with ease, demonstrating its ability to pick up and move large boxes using what appear to be suction cups at the end of a long neck. It’s referred to as “Handle” and, according to the company, was designed to carry up to 33 pounds while maneuvering in tight spaces. The robot first appeared online, though in a different form, about two years ago.
“Handle is a robot that combines the rough-terrain capability of legs with the efficiency of wheels," a description of the machine on the company’s website says. "It uses many of the same principles for dynamics, balance, and mobile manipulation found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex.
“Wheels are fast and efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs, Handle has the best of both worlds,” the description adds.
On Twitter, Boston Dynamics said the robot was an example of the company’s “efforts in logistics."
On YouTube, where the video has already garnered about 800,000 views, reaction to the robot was focused on its ability to replace human workers and unleash violent chaos.
“The economy revolution is starting and we should be looking for new incentives for the human race, work = money doesn’t work anymore,” Georgi Kirilov wrote.
“Great idea,” another observer from the account “Sir Piglet” wrote. “Put more people out of work due to automation to save money. Pretty soon there will be more people out of work than there is in the workforce.”
“Imagine this thing picking you up by the bare skin on your stomach with its triple layered suction cups and swinging you around like a centrifuge until all the blood that is inside your body is outside of your body," Colin Furman wrote. “That is how we are all going to die.”
Boston Dynamics has become known for creating robots whose movements mimic humans and animals with a degree of accuracy that many find unnerving. The videos, which appear online every few months, generate millions of views and lively discussion full of predictions of catastrophe.
Last year, Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert told an audience in Germany that his team is testing the company’s awkward four-legged doglike robot, SpotMini, for use in multiple industries, including security, delivery, construction and home assistance. The company says the 66-pound machine is 2 feet, 9 inches tall and is the quietest of the company’s robots. It runs on electricity, has 17 joints and can operate for 90 minutes on a single charge.