Boston Dynamics is Ready to Sell a Robot Dog: Spot

The Particle Debris article of the week comes from James Vincent at The Verge.

Boston Dynamics’ Robots Are Preparing To Leave The Lab — Is The World Ready?

Boston Dynamics Spot.

This article explains how Boston Dynamics is preparing to commercialize.

After decades of kicking machines in parking lots, the company is set to launch its first ever commercial bot later this year: the quadrupedal Spot. It’s a crucial test for a company that’s spent decades pursuing long-sighted R&D. And more importantly, the success — or failure — of Spot will tell us a lot about our own robot future.

Are we ready for machines to walk among us?

Author Vincent sets the stage and explains how Boston Dynamics positioned itself to go commercial.

Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert tells The Verge that those years of contracting and research were necessary to bring the company to its current stage of development.

The trigger for commercialization seems to have been the company’s acquisition in 2017 by Japanese tech giant SoftBank. Raibert says commercialization was always the end goal, but that access to SoftBank’s significant resources have allowed the company to kick its production of robots into a higher gear.

This is a rather long article by internet standards, but it’s chock full of interesting robot-related information. It’s essentially a tutorial on the state-of-the-art in robotics and how we can expect to live with them in the coming years. It’s a must read.

More News Debris

• Here’s the formula. Build a great software product. Become a solid company. Then realize that not enough money is being made. Sell out or enrage the customer. Now this may not apply to Dropbox, but ars technica explains: “Dropbox silently installs new file manager app on users’ systems.” The subtitle: Dropbox ambushes its users with a radically different version of its sync app. How do you feel about this?

• Next. Do you use browser extensions. innocent little tools, right? Nope. Inc. explains: “The Browser Extensions You Use Every Day are Selling Your Personal Information at an Astonishing Rate.” This applies to Chrome and Firefox. Safari is not mentioned.

[The Washington Post’s Geoffrey] Fowler says that he reported the findings of his research with an outside security firm to both Google and Mozilla, the makers of the affected browsers, and both immediately deactivated the suspect plug-ins. Still, according to the report, as many as four million people’s web browsing history was available online as a result of those extensions alone.

• We know that Jony Ive has been behind the (mostly) stellar design of our
Apple products. But what if? What might some of Apple’s products have looked like without his overarching vision. Mashable takes a light-hearted look: “What Apple’s products could look like without Jony Ive leading design.” I liked some of these notions and hated others—like the iPhone concept.

• The next time you’re at a wedding, you may want to think twice about standing up frequently and shooting photos with arms extended. See: “Wedding photographer’s anti-iPhone rant strikes a nerve.” As my Karate instructor used to tell me, “Train for total awareness.”

• This pictorial is awesome. “A comprehensive guide to the modern furnishings of Apple Store Boardrooms.” Apple knows how to court its business customers.

• Finally, some optimistic news. Gizmodo reports: “Congress Is One Step Closer to Sticking It to Robocallers.” What to know?

The legislation would also require carriers like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon to adopt caller ID authentication rules to fight call spoofing…

Importantly, the bill would also prevent carriers from charging consumers for call authentication technology that could help filter out robocalls.

I’ll be watching to see if this House bill eventually becomes law.


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article(s) of the week followed by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weeks.

2 thoughts on “Boston Dynamics is Ready to Sell a Robot Dog: Spot

  • John:

    Without doubt, robots will go commercial and be a part of everyday life in a way as ubiquitous as are our current digital devices, but like them, I should argue, not in the way in which they were originally and unimaginatively conceived.

    Just as we struggled to develop both the format and functional capacity of our original home – based (consumer) computers, and even in their earliest forms they continued to have more of a workplace than a home-based relevance and use case (offices, academia, industry) today’s applications too often address yesterday’s use cases. And just as those early devices were crude, kludgy, and minimally useful as a result of the early limited infant computer industry, today’s robots are crude, kludgy and at best of limited albeit important uses today. This will change substantially, dramatically and exponentially once it is undertaken as a necessity.

    Let’s not even bother with all of the polls showing that what most people have always wanted is a robotic dog to replace their furry best friend (there are no such polls, and I can well imagine my daughter’s reaction were I to replace her cuddly Calico with a metallic, furless feline – a scream worthy of a B-rated horror flick), most robots today are devoted to yesterday’s tasks formerly done by humans arising out of the industrial age; working assembly lines, moving heavy objects, repetitive motion assembly tasks, and driving automobiles and heavy equipment to name just a few, the real drivers of commercial application will be in use cases for emerging and even not-yet existing endeavours. I’ll suggest just two use cases (there are more) that, apart from their respective industries, are seldom discussed in public fora, and for good reason. Even though anticipated, they do not yet exist.

    One is space exploration, specifically the planetary science application of terraforming; and the other is the prevention of disease and disability.

    Regarding space exploration, we already have robotic explorers like Cassini (RIP) and Curiosity; primitive harbingers of what’s to come. When we think about Mars or Moon colonisation, we often think of rugged explorers toughing it out in extreme conditions as they slowly develop a Mars (or Moon) colony over time. Why subject humans to certain needless harm and death when you can deploy robots to not simply set up the colonies, but undertake the generations-long process of transforming the environment to a human-compatible if not habitable one? Not doing so when the technology exists would be unethical, and no review process will allow otherwise. As planetary science and the terraforming sub discipline become more mature, we will deploy increasingly interdisciplinary and capable robots, under the coordination of AI, to do all of these in advance of the waves of human settlers. These will be self-replicating, self-servicing robots that will exploit locally available resources to sustain their activities without human intervention, and on which human survival will depend. And although human explorers may be present, the dangerous work will be done by the robots and AI.

    Regarding disease and disability prevention, the nanobot – robots that will live amongst your body’s cells – will one day be a thing. These will likely be carbon-based bots that will imitate the cellular reproductive methods of nature, even down to the cellular antigens that identify self from non-self and therefore avoid rejection by the body, that will serve as sentinels to identify harmful pathogenic invaders that your own cells may struggle with (think of something terrible like Ebola or HIV) and kill them, as well as onco-cells (tumour cells) or even onco-genes (genes that activate tumour cells) and kill them before they even activate. The sciences behind understanding these functions is rapidly expanding thanks to molecular biology, and will necessitate a molecular level response that is adaptable, self-replicating and intelligent. This research, albeit infant, is already underway.

    Can a commercial company like Apple play in this space and contribute to the development of these technologies? You bet. This is simply a question of vision, volition and commitment.

    In short, our commercial and real world application of robotics will soon not simply overtake and leave behind our current emphasis of addressing yesterday’s problems, it will expand with and extend the frontiers of emerging and future disciplines that today we are only beginning to understand. Robots and AI are tools; and as with all tools, we will use them to project and extend human power and life; and perhaps in a very real way, the very definition of a healthy human.

  • I like the idea of a robot dog. As long as it doesn’t leave piles of batteries around to be cleaned up.
    With iCloud getting better and better I have been thinking about closing my DropBox account. This might be enough to get me to do it.
    I’ll believe that Congress will do something about robocalls when I see it.

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