How the Boston Dynamics Robot Reindeer Became a Strange New Holiday Classic

This year alone Boston Dynamics taught its pack of quadrupedal robots how to dance, pounce, and walk up flights of stairs. But despite these many advancements, a three-year-old holiday video of Spot robot dogs remains the most iconic of the secretive company’s litany of viral videos. Each year it makes the rounds again, a mechanized Rudolf the Reindeer.

Even for the internet, the video is kind of weird. Originally posted in 2015, it depicts its last generation of dog robots pulling Santa’s slay as a person dressed like Mrs. Claus hitches a ride. The video titled “HappyHolidays” has garnered almost 4.3 million views on YouTube after accounting for the latest viral streak, which occurred after a repost managed to amass 52,700 upvotes in 14 hours on Reddit. Dr. Robin Murphy, a roboticist from Texas A&M University who studies robots from TV and movies, tells Inverse that its long-standing appeal is because, amidst the ocean of Terminator references, this particular video stands out as painting robots in a friendlier light.

“Everyone loves BigDog and it is wonderful to see robots in a non-threatening scenario,” she explains in an email. “You don’t have to wonder about robot rights, like in Solo or Westworld, or lethal autonomous weapons, like in the Terminator or Eye in the Sky, or all the Singularity is upon us memes — you can just marvel at the fantastic robots and enjoy the sense of humor.”

'Spot' robots are seen escorting a distressed Santa Claus. 

Even though there’s a good reason not to be afraid of Boston Dynamics’ inventions, the screams of “robot apocalypse” still ring loud each and every time Atlas learns a new skill. That may be part of the genius of Spot — which is being tested for a number of industrial uses like construction and shipping — that the company’s four-legged robots resemble the good dogs we love.

Then again, even these friendly, Christmas-y pup-bots are vulnerable to a killer-robot reimagining. As many Reddit replies to the original post pointed out, this incarnation of Spot is not unlike the Robot Santa Claus from Futurama. In the old bit, a robotic antagonist flies down to Earth every year in a sleigh driven by a killer, mechanical reindeer to eradicate everyone he deems “naughty.”

Robot Santa knows all and sees all.

“You’d better not breathe, You’d better not move,” quipped u/Kain_niak “You’re better off dead, I’m telling you, dude. Santa Claus is gunning you down!”

That’s a slightly more sinister take than what Dr. Murphy had in mind, but it offers yet another plausible theory for what makes these particular robots so endlessly discussed, year-after-year.

Media via Boston Dynamics, GIPHY, Boston Dynamics