Boston Dynamics’ Robots are Using ‘Matrix’-Like Vision to Run and Jump

Boston Dynamics’ machines are getting smarter. On Thursday, the company uploaded new footage of its SpotMini and Atlas bots running around offices, jogging through forests and leaping over logs. In the case of the SpotMini, the company revealed how the quadrupedal robot avoids obstacles with a glitch art-style view of the world that looks like something out of The Matrix.

The SoftBank-owned company has made great robo-powered strides since its founding in 1992. SpotMini, the 55-pound robot dog that can assist with household chores using an arm on its back, captured viewers’ imaginations with its cutesy trot as it traverses the landscape. Some may find it a tad unnerving — Black Mirror’s creepy “Metalhead” episode features bots that bear a striking resemblance — but the machines are gradually improving at navigating landscapes to a level that makes them ideal for a number of roles.

In the sped-up 6-minute footage of SpotMini, the system autonomously moves through an outdoor area followed by an office. Camera data is used to localize itself and traverse its built-in map, and once the operator presses “go” at the start, the machine works by itself. Boston Dynamics notes that the QR codes visible in the video are not for guidance, instead used as a means of measuring performance.

The company also released footage of its bipedal Atlas bot. Around the same size as a human — the third-generation bot weighed 190 pounds and stood 5 feet and 9 inches tall — Atlas has stunned observers with its ability to carry boxes even when pushed and doing an impressive backflip off a ledge. Footage of the team pushing Atlas with a hockey stick led to a series of memes sympathizing with the bot’s plight.

It’s unclear if or when these machines will reach the market, but SoftBank’s previous work may provide some clues. Its Pepper customer-service bot has rolled out to businesses with a friendly face offering advice, partnering with big names like Boeing and Ford.

If you ever see a SpotMini in person, now you’ll know how it perceives the world.

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