SpotMini, the quadruped robot with a penchant for picking up cans, is finally about to enter production. On Thursday, developer Boston Dynamics announced that it’s aiming to start making the machines around July or August this year. While it’s been demonstrated working around the house, the company’s first product will be designed for keeping tabs on office spaces, a prospect that doesn’t sound too far removed from Black Mirror.
At the “TC Sessions: Robotics + AI” startup showcase event hosted at the University of California, Berkeley on Thursday, company founder and CEO Marc Raibert unveiled a production version, confirming plans to make around 100 models this year alone, somewhat less than the 1,000 per year projected by Raibert in May 2018. While Boston Dynamics has already started building bots now, these are a limited number of test builds that will likely differ from the final product.
It’s the first actual product from the firm, which developed in 1992 from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team into a fully-fledged company. Its videos of bipedal bots running around and avoiding obstacles, plus dog-shaped machines loading dishwashers, has wowed the technology industry even before its first product launch.
The production version, Raibert said, could become the “Android of robots” with third-party developers taking advantage of the multitude of navigation tools and sensors. The bot has an arm on its back that it can stabilize, demonstrated by holding a can in mid-air while doing a dance. The production version also has better components and protection against falls, plus five cameras (two front, two each side and one rear) for interpreting its surroundings. Previous iterations stood two feet nine inches, contained 17 joints and weighed 55 pounds.
Boston Dynamics has big money behind its efforts. In June 2017, Japanese multinational Softbank bought the firm for a reported $100 million from Google parent company Alphabet. Softbank previously developed the Pepper customer assistance robot, making Boston Dynamics’ talents a useful addition to its portfolio. In June and September 2018, U.K.-registered firm Softbank Group Capital gave two major loans to the firm in June and September 2018, totalling $37 million.
A robot helping with household tasks may seem a futuristic prospect, but robot vacuum cleaners and voice-powered smart home assistants mean this vision is practically a reality for some. CloudMinds, another Softbank-supported firm that demonstrated the XR-1 cloud robot in February, told Inverse at the time that the team foresees a robot in every house by 2025 — including voice assistants and the like under the definition of “robot.”
Pricing for the SpotMini is yet to be announced, with further details expected in the summer. With the amount of technology on display though, it may be a while before there’s a robot in every home.
The company’s not stopping there, though, with talk already underway of applying the wheeled bipedal Handle robot to logistics operations.