Dog-inspired Robot to Become Commercially Available Next Year

Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini, a quadrupedal robot designed to autonomously guide itself along complex routes, is set to go on sale in 2019.

SpotMini bears striking anatomical similarities to large dogs. (Image courtesy of Stephen Shankland, CNET.)

SpotMini bears striking anatomical similarities to large dogs. (Image courtesy of Stephen Shankland, CNET.)

Robot Dog to Hit the Market

The golden retrievers of the world might soon face some competition from an unlikely source. Boston Dynamics announced at a TechCrunch robotics conference that its doglike robot, SpotMini, will go on sale next year. The company is expected to begin with an opening production run of roughly 100 robotic canines before scaling up manufacturing to make SpotMini publicly available.

Physical Characteristics

These four-legged bots stand a hair under 3-feet high and weigh roughly 65 pounds. In addition to the four limbs on which it stands, SpotMini has a fifth appendage—the dog’s “head”—that is able to pick up objects weighing up to 30 pounds. It can also use this limb to right itself after a fall. The machines are battery-actuated and can run for over an hour and a half on a full charge.

Equipped with an advanced sensor suite that incorporates sensors in all four limbs and the face—which doubles as an arm—the robot is able to map out its own routes through an environment after some initial remote guidance from an operator. The quietest robot in Boston Dynamics’ portfolio, SpotMini’s potential lies in its ability to unobtrusively negotiate terrain that would be impossible for a wheeled robot.

Initial Applications

SpotMini’s navigational versatility could make it a natural fit on construction sites and in warehouse facilities.

The first SpotMinis to go on sale are expected to be put to work in commercial facilities. By patrolling complex pathways and relaying information to operators, the bionic pup should act as a versatile security system around warehouses and construction sites. The possibilities don’t end in the commercial sector, however. Company CEO Marc Raibert indicated at the TechCrunch conference that the vision for the SpotMini always has been in the home—although not, perhaps, as a replacement pet.

The machine’s flexible fifth limb opens the door to various possibilities for increasing the convenience of home life. SpotMini is capable of opening the front door to let itself outside, retrieving the morning paper and climbing the stairs to deliver the paper to a human recipient lying in bed. Given the recent buzz about robot butlers, it’s fair to wonder whether the eventual manifestation of these luxury bots may not be humanoid. Man’s best friend, rather, could end up serving as the inspiration that puts a robot servant in homes across the world.

If interested in learning more about the evolving personal robot landscape, check out this article chronicling the challenges associated with building an effective bot for domestic use.