The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Boston Dynamics adds an ‘arm’ to its robotic dog Spot

The robotics firm is expanding its product line

Boston Dynamics’ four-legged robot Spot throws a power switch. (Boston Dynamics/Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

Boston Dynamics, the company best known for eccentric videos of animal-like machines, has upgraded its classic robotic dog Spot.

This week, the company unveiled an order-ready version of the four-legged gadget called Spot Enterprise, complete with a self-charging dock, remote operating capabilities and an arm add-on that enables the machine to perform manual tasks such as opening doors and picking up objects.

The U.S. Air Force is entering a robotic future

In a demonstration video on YouTube, the autonomous machine is shown with a snake-like attachment tethered to its head. The “arm” enables Spot to grip items on the ground and place them in a basket on its back. It also enables the robot to turn door handles and open doors. In a bizarre display of agility, two of the new animatrons use their arms to swing a jump rope while another Spot robot bounces up and down in the middle.

The video uploaded Monday has been watched more than 3.5 million times.

Spot Arm “finds and picks up objects (trash), tidies up the living room, opens doors, operates switches and valves, tends the garden and generally has fun,” Boston Dynamics said.

The arm has a clasp that can open, shut and rotate, enabling the robot to lift, carry, drag and place a wide variety of objects, but it falls short of human-like dexterity, an unmet robotics challenge that would allow machines to grasp and manipulate oddly shaped and unfamiliar objects.

While the latest version of the robot can conduct more household tasks, it’s far too expensive for the average household. Boston Dynamics wouldn’t reveal pricing. However, its previous iteration, Spot Explorer, walks right out of the box and sells for $74,500. Shipping takes up to six weeks.

Boston Dynamics said it has sold 400 units around the world thus far. And the machine is primarily bought by companies that use the robots to conduct tasks that are too dangerous for humans, such as work around nuclear plants, offshore oil fields, construction sites and mines.

Robot dog firm Boston Dynamics is getting a new owner: Hyundai

It’s too soon to tell how the development would benefit Hyundai, the South Korean automaker that announced plans in December to spend more than $1 billion to take over the robotics lab. Hyundai already had a robotics division that worked on wearable technology, service robots and micro-mobility. When it announced plans to acquire Boston Dynamics, the car company said robotics show “potential for significant growth in the future.”

The deal with Hyundai represents the third time Boston Dynamics has changed hands in seven years. Google bought the firm in 2013. At the time, the robotics company wasn’t selling a product. The search giant sold it to Soft Bank four years later.

More virus-zapping robots are coming, and they’re here to stay

Spot Enterprise represents Boston Dynamics’ second buyable product. Its first offering was Spot Explorer, which was released in June 2020.

After listening to early adopters, Boston Dynamics gave its robot dog a hardware boost and extended WiFi capabilities. It can be controlled remotely using the company’s new Web browser-based interface, Scout. It’s the first Boston Dynamics device equipped with self-charging capabilities and a dock, which means it can be deployed for longer-term missions “with little to no human interaction,” Boston Dynamics said. The previous version of Spot had around 90 minutes of battery life before requiring a manual charge.

Spot is equipped with a series of cameras and sensors, enabling the robot and its operator to see and respond to the world. It was built to cruise over rough terrain and can be configured to perform repeatable autonomous missions.

Boston Dynamics is widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of animal-like robots. The Massachusetts-based firm shook up the robotics industry in 2013 with its dynamic humanoid robot developed for the Pentagon research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA. Boston Dynamics pushed things further in 2015 with the first iteration of Spot, a quadruped that could scale stairs, walk uphill and avoid being kicked over.

In the years that followed, several stunt videos featuring the company’s robots have gone viral, showing them dancing, sprinting and performing tricks.

A clip shared Tuesday shows Spot Enterprise in action around a warehouse, taking thermal readings and investigating abnormal sounds. When an alarm goes off in the middle of the night, the robot awakens from its charging dock to go to inspect what’s happening. It sends live video footage to an operator. “Everything looks fine,” the operator says before sending the robot dog back to bed.