At the Ted 2017 conference yesterday, Marc Railbert, the CEO of Boston Dynamics showed a video of a four-legged, dog-like robot delivering a package to the front door of a home. The small robot is capable of performing various tasks such as climbing stairs, moving sideways, trotting with a “horse-like” gait, and can even open heavy doors in order to deliver a package strapped to its back. According to Railbert, the robot, which weighs around 55 pounds, currently has around a 70% success rate, and they have been testing the robot out at employee’s homes to assess how it copes with various access issues. The robot, known as Spot, was first unveiled to a surprised audience at the NIPS machine learning conference in Spain last month. In an on-stage demo at the NIPS conference, Railbert showed the robot was capable of a variety of speeds and functions and it even placed a soda can into his hand using an extendable arm.
Before Google’s parent company Alphabet bought Boston Dynamics in 2013, the robots that Boston Dynamics created were largely funded by the military, and they struggled to find a commercial application for their creations. Their robot “dog” Spot is actually a miniaturized version of another 6 year-long Boston Dynamics project which was funded by DARPA. It was known as BigDog and was intended for use as a robotic mule, although the project was eventually canceled by the Pentagon over concerns about the robot’s noise levels in an enemy environment. Another robot created by Boston Dynamics was described by Railbert as “nightmare-inducing” when he unveiled it last month. Known as “Handle,” it is capable of carrying 100 pounds as well as jumping over hurdles, moving in snow, lifting a leg while moving and maneuvering up and down flights of stairs. At the TED conference, the CEO also went on to show a video of another one of their robotic projects working on a factory floor. Called “Atlas,” it is a bipedal access robot and is currently capable of working at approximately two-thirds of the average speed of a human worker.
Given the potential problems with using drones to deliver packages by air, the option of using land-based robots may seem a more attractive idea to delivery companies. Uber may be thinking along similar lines – they recently bought a company called Otto, which is working on robotic shipping trucks. Another company called Starship Technologies was also recently given government approval to begin testing in Washington DC for their four-wheeled robotic mule, which can carry up to 20 pounds.