The robotic dog, SpotMini
Former Google sibling Boston Dynamics has created a robotic dog designed to move almost as smoothly as an animal. The headless quadruped, charmingly named SpotMini, is capable of opening a door and walking through it. A fifth limb is used turn the handle and pull the door open, after which the bot walks through unchallenged.
The immense complexity of this action is impressive enough, but now the dog has also learned to fight back against a human. In a video released by the robotics firm, SpotMini is put through its paces by a human interceptor while aiming to perform the same action (open a door and walk through). The robot approaches the door as before while the human tries to disturb it with an ice hockey stick. Unperturbed, it continues to turn the handle even when its fifth arm is pushed away.
The human then shuts the door on the dog, which counterbalances and fights back against the pressure. Finally, the human grabs a lead attached to SpotMini and pulls it back from the door. The robot responds by continuing to trudge forward against the force of the human until he lets go. It then realigns itself and proceeds to open the door and walk through.
Where SpotMini will end up
Boston Dynamics described the exercise as a test of the robot’s ability to adjust to disturbances. This ability, the company stated, would improve the overall successful operation of the robot. Aside from opening doors, the robot can handle objects, climb stairs and could operate in homes and offices. Indeed, it was built with office use in mind, and the first 100 commercial robots are expected to be built and distributed in 2019.
SpotMini’s creators are now turning their attention to a set of apps that would enable the robotic dog to carry out tasks to help with surveillance or construction. They are also rumoured to be inviting third parties to develop their own applications for the model. In its current form, SpotMini can pick up and carry a payload of 14kg in its fifth arm.
Joining the team
Security robots are already being put to use in some communities, though with mixed results. These tend to operate on wheels, which have limitations that legs don’t. Climbing stairs, for example, is an action that SpotMini can achieve that its wheeled counterparts cannot.
When the time comes for the robotic dog to enter the office environment, it will join one of Boston Dynamics’ other robots – the wheeled humanoid Pepper, which has been available in the UK since 2016 and typically performs receptionist duties.
UK businesses engaged in developing apps or software for robots can benefit from R&D tax relief. Conceived to encourage innovation and keep Britain at the forefront of technological progress, the relief provides a reduction in corporation tax to businesses that are seeking to overcome scientific and technological uncertainties. Those receiving business grants, however, should check their eligibility for tax credits with an expert such as R&D Tax Solutions.