Watch This Pack of Headless Robotic Dogs Pull a Loaded Semi Truck Across a Parking Lot

With recent advancements in artificial intelligence and automation, robots can now perform some eerily human-like tasks, as well as some that people …

With recent advancements in artificial intelligence and automation, robots can now perform some eerily human-like tasks, as well as some that people like us could never dream of doing. In this particular case, we’re talking about Boston Dynamics’ most recent video footage showcasing its latest creation, SpotMini. To prove how capable its dog-like and headless robots are, the company rounded up about 10 of them, daisy chained them together, then proceeded to pull a large heavy-duty box truck clear across a vacant parking lot.

SpotMini is essentially a shrunken-down version of the engineering firm’s main project, BigDog, which started life as a robotic pack mule prototype for transporting goods to military groups deployed in areas where more traditional transport vehicles can’t go.

Weighing in at 66 pounds and roughly the size of a large coffee table, Boston Dynamics claims SpotMini has the payload capacity of around 31 pounds and can last for as long as 90 minutes on a single charge of its battery pack, depending on what activities it’s taking part in.

“It only takes 10 Spotpower (SP) to haul a truck across the Boston Dynamics parking lot (~1 degree uphill, truck in neutral). These Spot robots are coming off the production line now and will be available for a range of applications soon,” wrote the engineering firm in the description of its video.

The company claims SpotMini is considerably more advanced than any of its predecessors, sporting new sensory gear that allows the robot to navigate better. Boston Dynamics also says SpotMini is its quietest robot ever, especially after its original military-based project, BigDog, was shelved because it was deemed too loud for combat.

Born as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the robotics engineering firm made a name of for itself developing and building these very capable, if not slightly creepy, headless robodogs. With the help of funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, Boston Dynamics researched and developed these machines to come up with BigDog. Over the years, the company released videos of its progress by posting videos of its engineers “teaching” them to do things, like running obstacle courses, opening doors, and even dancing.

The future of automation might look bright in terms of advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics. But on the flipside, it could be downright creepy, especially when you factor in the potential unpredictable risks of AI and the concept of a computerized machine becoming self-aware. That, or I’ve been watching too many Terminator movies lately.

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This Week’s Awesome Stories From Around the Web (Through April 20)

Open AI’s Dota 2 AI Steamrolls World Champion e-Sports Team With … [OpenAI cofounder and CEO, Sam Altman] tells me there probably does not …

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Open AI’s Dota 2 AI Steamrolls World Champion e-Sports Team With Back-to-Back Victories

Nick Statt | The Verge

“…[OpenAI cofounder and CEO, Sam Altman] tells me there probably does not exist a video game out there right now that a system like OpenAI Five can’t eventually master at a level beyond human capability. For the broader AI industry, mastering video games may soon become passé, simple table stakes required to prove your system can learn fast and act in a way required to tackle tougher, real-world tasks with more meaningful benefits.”

ROBOTICS

Boston Dynamics Debuts the Production Version of SpotMini

Brian Heater, Catherine Shu | TechCrunch

“SpotMini is the first commercial robot Boston Dynamics is set to release, but as we learned earlier, it certainly won’t be the last. The company is looking to its wheeled Handle robot in an effort to push into the logistics space. It’s a super-hot category for robotics right now. Notably, Amazon recently acquired Colorado-based start up Canvas to add to its own arm of fulfillment center robots.”

NEUROSCIENCE

Scientists Restore Some Brain Cell Functions in Pigs Four Hours After Death

Joel Achenbach | The Washington Post

“The ethicists say this research can blur the line between life and death, and could complicate the protocols for organ donation, which rely on a clear determination of when a person is dead and beyond resuscitation.”

BIOTECH

How Scientists 3D Printed a Tiny Heart From Human Cells

Yasmin Saplakoglu | Live Science

“Though the heart is much smaller than a human’s (it’s only the size of a rabbit’s), and there’s still a long way to go until it functions like a normal heart, the proof-of-concept experiment could eventually lead to personalized organs or tissues that could be used in the human body…”

SPACE

The Next Clash of Silicon Valley Titans Will Take Place in Space

Luke Dormehl | Digital Trends

“With bold plans that call for thousands of new satellites being put into orbit and astronomical costs, it’s going to be fascinating to observe the next phase of the tech platform battle being fought not on our desktops or mobile devices in our pockets, but outside of Earth’s atmosphere.”

FUTURE HISTORY

The Images That Could Help Rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral

Alexis C. Madrigal | The Atlantic

“…in 2010, [Andrew] Tallon, an art professor at Vassar, took a Leica ScanStation C10 to Notre-Dame and, with the assistance of Columbia’s Paul Blaer, began to painstakingly scan every piece of the structure, inside and out. …Over five days, they positioned the scanner again and again—50 times in all—to create an unmatched record of the reality of one of the world’s most awe-inspiring buildings, represented as a series of points in space.”

AUGMENTED REALITY

Mapping Our World in 3D Will Let Us Paint Streets With Augmented Reality

Charlotte Jee | MIT Technology Review

“Scape wants to use its location services to become the underlying infrastructure upon which driverless cars, robotics, and augmented-reality services sit. ‘Our end goal is a one-to-one map of the world covering everything,’ says Miller. ‘Our ambition is to be as invisible as GPS is today.’i

Image Credit: VAlex / Shutterstock.com

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SpotMini: Boston Dynamics Finally Reveals Production Details for Robot Dog

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 …

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.

Raibert and SpotMini at TED 2017.
Raibert and SpotMini at TED 2017.
Raibert and SpotMini at TED 2017.

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.

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New video shows pack of SpotMini robot dogs hauling a truck

Formerly a subsidiary of Google, Boston Dynamics is now under the umbrella of Masoyoshi Son’s Softbank Group. One of its other models, Atlas, …

A new chapter in robotics: the SpotMini is a 30 kg (60 lbs) powerhouse.

By Daniel Herborn