Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot gets long-distance remote control

The Boston Dynamics robot Spot can now be fully remote-controlled from anywhere in the world, using a web browser-based platform called Scout.

Previously, Spot was controlled via a bespoke tablet, which meant the operator had to be nearby, said the firm’s vice president Michael Perry.

Boston Dynamics said it had sold 400 Spot robots in the last year.

They are being used in construction, deep underground mines, nuclear power plants and offshore oil rigs.

Despite relatively limited sales to date, the company’s new owner believes there is huge potential for the business.

Two months ago, Hyundai bought an 80% controlling share of Boston Dynamics from Softbank, in a deal which valued the robotics firm at $1.1bn (£810m). 

Google’s parent Alphabet had sold the enterprise to Softbank in 2017 for the much lower reported sum of about $100m.

A video of Spot “sitting” itself down onto a charging dock, using a skipping rope, opening doors, moving objects and climbing stairs was released to mark the latest development.

The demo showed two people controlling Spot from a desktop computer
image captionThe demo showed two people controlling Spot from a desktop computer

The basic model costs $74,500 (£55,000).

The robots are commonly used to patrol sites and gather data, the firm said.

Using Scout, the robot can now be controlled remotely with either a keyboard or a joystick, via a web browser. 

If Spot falls out of communication range, it will retrace its steps until the last point at which it received a signal, said Chris Bentzel, Scout’s engineering lead.

Scout controls include:

  • “stair mode” to help the machine detect stairs
  • “terrain mode”, which offers 3D geometry of the location
  • “self right”, which sets Spot back on its feet if it falls over

By highlighting an area of the camera display on screen, Spot’s camera can zoom in on it.

However, companies will need to take safety precautions if they intend to use the robot without anyone physically close by to supervise it.

Two Spots were also shown using a skipping rope, while a third jumped it
image captionTwo Spots were also shown using a skipping rope, while a third jumped it

“Our measure of success is not that we can make the robot work, but [whether] you can,” said chief executive Robert Playter.

The machine can now also ship with a 1m (3.3ft)-long arm attached to its body. This can pick things up, pull things along and open doors.

The arm had been shown off before, however it can only be added or removed by Boston Dynamics and costs extra. 

It does not yet work with Scout.

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