Every time Boston Dynamics releases a new robot video, it gets tens of millions of hits, causing public amazement and even fear. Marc Raibert, chief executive of Boston Dynamics, made it clear that “humans cannot arm robots.” What do you think of Boston Dynamics ‘s robots?
Boston Dynamics is one of the best-known companies in robotics, thanks in large part to its viral lying of robotics. Every time Boston Dynamics releases a new robot video, it can quickly get tens of millions of views on youTube platforms alone and spread it on various social media, causing public amazement and even fear.
However, Boston Dynamics doesnot communicate much with the media, and the outside world doesn’t know much about it. So at last week’s Web Summit 2019 summit, venturebeat interviewed Marc Raibert, chief executive of Boston Dynamics, to give us insight into Boston Dynamics and how the amazing robots were built.
Raibert discusses three of Boston Dynamics’ most important robots so far, classifying them by time: Today’s Spot, Tomorrow’s Handle, and Atlas of the future. He also discusses Boston Dynamics’ current customers, potential applications, artificial intelligence, simulation and, of course, amazing videos.
Today’s Robots: Spot, “Android in the Robot World”
For Raibert, “Today” means the next year or so. Spot is a “today” robot because it’s already shipping to early users. In fact, the robot dog Spot has only been on the market for about six weeks. Boston Dynamics wants Spot to be a platform – raibert has repeatedly called it “Android in the robotics world.”
The 60-pound Spot “is not a fixed-purpose robot,” Raibert said. Users can add hardware loads or software that interacts with them through Spot’s API. Boston Power equips Spot with robotic arms, spectrum radios, cameras and lidar, but other companies are also developing their own sensors.
The “Spot” here is actually Spot Mini. It inherited the name of the former Big Brother Spot and changed its name.
By using obstacle check-in cameras to observe railings and steps, the Spot robot dog is able to walk up and down the stairs autonomously. It also has an autonomous navigation system that allows it to travel through various terrains. Spot dog can be operated by humans, but the built-in computer controls legs and balance.
Spot Machine Dog will open the door.
Spot machine dogs travel at about 3 miles per hour, the same speed as humans walk. It has a camera on the front, back and side to help it navigate, act autonomously and move in all directions. It has different gait (slow walking, walking, running, even dancing), can turn in place, and can have a “hand-caught” mode. The last one means that it separates the movement of the hand from the movement of the body, just as many animals keep a part of the body stable when they move in other parts of the body.
Rent now and sell later
Boston Dynamics plans to build 1,000 Spot dog dogs, many of which have already been shipped. The company expects to meet this target by mid-2020. We are curious: does a company buy only one robot? How many robotic dogs has Boston Dynamics sold?
Boston Power Machine Dog’s Amazing Mobility
“It’s not usually one, it’s usually a couple,” Raibert said. “Five at most – almost.” We have two ways to deliver. One is to deliver robots and provide training, and we are happy to help them succeed, as this will help build the market. Four-legged robots have no emerging market. We’re working hard to help build this market this year. We can even add some features if the customer needs it. The other way is to sell directly, but with far less help and attention. ”
In fact, Boston Dynamics hasn’t started selling Spot Dogs. “At the moment, we’re renting them out,” Raibert said. “I think it’s very early adopters. In the near future, we will start selling them, but now it is the rental way. This is the first generation of products. I’m sure there will be a lot of problems, a lot of places that need to be repaired. We’re going to see how rough the customer is with the robot dog. So far, we have had great success. We may be more brutal to robots internally than they are – because our job is to identify their weaknesses and fix them. ”
Raibert would not say how much a Spot machine dog would sell for. However, he says the current rent for robot dogs is “thousands of dollars a month”. He added that “every transaction is customized” and had to do with how many robots the company leased, how long it would be leased, and so on.
Last week, Boston Dynamics released its latest Spot software. The biggest improvement is more autonomous navigation. “When I’m talking about autonomous navigation, you can guide the robot through a site, record a map, and tell it, ‘I want you to go down this road.'” It can complete a task at once, or perform this operation routinely. You can tell it to collect data with a camera, either an external camera or a built-in camera. “Similarly, Spot is a platform, and the platform is updated.
What is the best place to work for Spot?
Industrial robots are often fixed. Because Spot can move and expand its arms, Boston Dynamics is betting that Spot could become a more effective mobile operating platform. For now, at least, the company is not interested in making robots that interact with humans. You’ll notice that all of its robots focus on tasks that humans themselves can’t, shouldn’t or can’t accomplish. This is a clear strategic decision. These robots are neither domestic nor public.
It also means that Boston Dynamics can protect its intellectual property. “The safety of robots depends on keeping them reasonably away from humans,” Raibert said. “Or reach an agreement to get people to use robots with care.” ”
As a result, Boston Dynamics only supplies spot dogs to businesses. The company is currently not interested in making them available to developers, enthusiasts or individuals.
In the next year, Mr. Raibert says, the most likely place to find a Spot dog is a warehouse, a building area or an industrial facility. Moreover, Spot machine dogs are being shipped around the world.
Robotic dogs can use scanners or 360-degree cameras to collect data with greater accuracy without endangering human life. For example, in a power distribution company, when power is applied, even if the inspection is useful, it is not allowed to enter. Boston Dynamics has already shipped some Spot dog dogs to these locations, but is still in beta.
Refineries are also a great use case for Spot because of the amount of data collection and inspection that needs to be done. ‘It’s now done intermittently, so it’s valuable for these facilities to do it more regularly, ‘ Mr. Raibert said. Spot Dogs has worked at a BP refinery, a National Grid distribution plant and a construction site in Fujita, where it can save money by routinely collecting 3D scans and data.
Spot has also become an entertainment robot. Boston Dynamics has tested people to “walk the robot dog.” You can control a real robot dog instead of controlling virtual characters in video games. The company also works with Cirque du Soleil to assess how humans and robots work together in performances.
The police and army are also customers of Boston Dynamics.
There has been much discussion about whether law enforcement and the military should use AI and robots. Boston Dynamics says it accepts such customers, but with some rules.
“Our cooperation with the police department is limited,” Raibert said. “Only in places such as the detection of hazardous materials and bomb squads has been carried out. When they get to a place, don’t know what’s in front of them, and want to see it, they send the robot dog in. They are learning, and we are learning. However, such cooperation will increase. ”
Raibert points out that remote operations are particularly useful for police forces because they don’t care about robot autonomy, they only care about mobility.
“We have a lot of technology to operate robots remotely, ” Says Raibert. “The robot has a certain on-board intelligence that manages all the balance, manipulation and barrier avoidance, which means it’s easier to operate. We’re also developing manipulation software that can manipulate the robot through the screen, let it display the view through the robot’s camera, point to something, and then instruct it to go there, or pick up that thing. Therefore, it uses local intelligence, and then you can operate remotely. ”
“Big Dog” Robot developed for military use
So does Boston Dynamics have a military customer? After all, Boston Dynamics’ original “big dog” was a four-legged robot designed for the U.S. military.
“We don’t have it yet, but we may have it,” Raibert said. “We’re trying to focus on hazard avoidance, bomb detection, and so on. There are provisions in our contract that require humans not to arm robots. Do not allow them to harm or intimidate others. They are not soldiers. Military users can do many things with robots: getting information, dealing with dangerous environments, and so on. ”
Tomorrow’s Robot: Handle, it’s actually a simplified version of Atlas
For Raibert, “tomorrow” means about a year and a half from then (2021). Handle stands for tomorrow’s robot because it is still in the prototype stage. The logistics robot uses a vision system to locate pallets and can identify the boxes it needs in many boxes.
“It took about 18 months and we’ve got a robot that can work in a warehouse,” Raibert said. “About a trillion cartons are shipped around the world every year. This is an estimate based on the volume of transport. The goods were loaded into trucks, unloaded, stacked on pallets, mixed from one SKU pallet to multiple SKU pallets, loaded into trucks, transported to retail stores and then unboxed for sale. ”
Handle robot working in a warehouse
Most of the work of carrying cartons is not automated. This is a heavy, monotonous and unpleasant task. Boston Dynamics sees a huge opportunity to automate the task with its mobile-controlled robots. “So we developed a robot whose goal is to be able to see, lift up and place boxes. ”
Handle has been on the show for some time, but Spot is still the focus. Asked how much money the company has invested in Spot’s marketization, Raibert said it was about 50 percent. But that will soon shift to Handle.
“I think our best efforts are on Spot,” Raibert said. “We want to manage all production, and this is the first time we’ve produced more than five sizes of products. Before, everything was a prototype. Our plan is to build Handle on a large scale in a year and a half, using the experience and skills we have learned from Spot. ”
Eventually, Boston Dynamics hopes to create robots with a variety of perception systems, drive systems, planning systems, and more.
Robots of the Future: Atlas, the most dazzling and powerful, is always the prototype
For Raibert, “the future” means “sustainable development”. Atlas is the “future” robot because it is always in the prototype stage. So, will Atlas be commercialized?
“I don’t think so,” Raibert admits. “Honestly, Handle is a descendant of Atlas. Because Atlas can handle boxes, we thought, ‘So, how do you handle them more efficiently and cheaper?’ ‘So there’s Handle. It’s a bit like the humanoid robot Atlas, but it’s simpler and less free, which means it’s cheaper. We’re making a rotating Handle robot, a more productized version. ”
Atlas is expensive and picky, and it needs a special team to keep it up and running. Still, it’s performing better than any robot the company has ever created. Atlas is a research project by Boston Dynamics: developing new technologies on Atlas and then applying some of them to their products when appropriate.
Boston Dynamics uses Atlas robots to develop learning and optimization technologies for controlling complex behaviors, as well as new hardware technologies. In fact, Boston Dynamics has done as much work and developed dedicated software for Atlas.
The latest version of the humanoid robot weighs 165 pounds and is equipped with a hydraulic power unit weighing about 5 kg, which can generate 5kw of power when the robot is working. It also has a 3d printed leg with hydraulic passages, actuator boards, valve positions, space frames, custom lightweight components, and more.
Recently, Boston Dynamics tried to get Atlas to perform some basic gymnastics. The goal is to test rapid behavior development optimization techniques and machine learning, Raibert explains.
Boston Dynamics Without PR: Artificial Intelligence, Simulation Environment, and Viral Video
Turning to machine learning, we asked Boston Dynamics how it uses AI in its robots. Raibert likes to divide AI into two different types, two of which are most relevant to his company: sports AI is the equivalent of letting us manipulate our bodies (standing, walking, climbing, bypassing obstacles, and so on). Academic AI is the equivalent of what happens when we plan in our minds (calculate when you need to leave home to be late for work). Boston Dynamics is focused on the former.
In other words, if you’ve taught robots how to stand, walk, navigate, and so on, it’s much easier to guide the robot to accomplish a task for you. But Boston Dynamics doesn’t just do sports AI.
“We’re also doing some basic work on academic AI. For example, in our warehouse robots, we have systems that know that we have to build a pallet, that we need boxes over there, that they can arrange things. But it all happens in a world of good control. He said: “It does not solve the uncertainty of the world.” ”
One way to avoid the big world when building robots is to train them in simulations. That’s what Boston Dynamics does.
“We’ve done a lot of work on simulation. I think for many people in the aia world, simulation is good enough as a final learning device. For the physics experiments we do, we always combine physical experiments and simulations on real robots. The two are complementary. ”
The physical world is still much better for Boston Dynamics than the real world, but simulation has the advantage of cost savings.
On the face of it, Boston Dynamics seems to have an experienced PR department, but Mr Raibert says the company doesn’t actually have a real PR department. Somehow, however, Boston Dynamics videos always seem to go viral. The videos linked to this article have more than 65 million views on YouTube.
“We built a brand through YouTube, and it’s fun,” says Raibert. “It’s great for the company. We don’t need to introduce ourselves from scratch (and the cost is very low). We are a big fan of robots. We are not a business that just wants to make money. We do so because the challenge sysis is to understand the key factors in understanding humans and animals that make them move so efficiently in this world. This is a huge challenge. Our long-term goal is to create robots that can meet this challenge. Commercialization is one of the things in the development process, and it’s really interesting to put robots in the hands of others, not just ourselves, and it’s really exciting that we’re doing work that provides validity tests and robustness tests. ”
In short, “when you do this kind of work, you want to show people what you’re doing, and I think that’s the real motivation,” he says.
Some have criticized Boston Dynamics for not showing someone controlling the robot. These videos do not have any technical details. They are clearly destined to become viral. There are trade-offs.
“In the early days, we showed that robots do a lot of tasks in the world. Some people think they are completely autonomous, but they are not. There are humans in operation, although many are autonomous. We just want to prove that the leg-spinners we’ve created can climb muddy hills, and that’s the message we want to get. If you look at the latest video, we’ve added more words to describe its autonomy. But we don’t want to be a technical paper. People often post videos of robots with narration. No one looked at it. No one pays attention to them because they are drowned out in the technical details that most people don’t care about. ”
While “the business world is focused on OPPOrtunity-first,” Mr. Raibert says, his employees are not. “We are robot-first. “