Boston Dynamics chairperson Marc Raibert showed never-before seen footage of one of its newest robots Stretch during a talk at ICRA 2023. This came as the founder laid out the company’s newest projects and aims of the company as its robots becoming increasingly utilised in commercial settings.
Raibert showed attendees Boston Dynamics’ two main commercially available robots: Stretch and Spot, in action in various circumstances and scenarios. One of which was a never before video of Stretch in action working in DHL. Although not productised, the proof of concept claw robot was seen stacking and shifting boxes from one area to another in a warehouse in what was a trial of a number of devices for the company. These stretch proof of concepts are also undergoing similar usage in GAP and H&M.
Talking of Spot, the dog-like robot, Raibert went to describe all the testing that went into the finished iteration. Having been in robotics since the 80s, Raibert had been working on the fluidity of movement with robots, especially bipedals, learning from the use of a pogo stick and how it operates.
Showing the evolution of Spot, a montage was played that went back all the way to the mid-2000s, as footage of Big Dog, Spot’s ‘grandfather’ was shown traversing, and failing, across various rugged terrains inside and outside of the Boston Dynamics testing facility. This was when Boston Dynamics first burst-out onto the scene, with many layman being introduced to it through videos on the Internet of researchers seemingly being ‘cruel’ to the robot by deliberately taking efforts to push it over with a hockey stick, or close doors it had spent trying to open.
In a less viral video, the precursor to Stretch, Handle, was shown. Rolling on a singular wheel and using a counter-weight to balance, the device was deemed to have to big a space of operation to be effectively used in tight spaces, like when offload from lorries.
Looking to the future, Atlas, Boston Dynamics newest Robot, was then touted to the audience, as it is hoped to join the other two as commercially available. And although the promotional and testing videos show it jumping from board to board, or lifting itself up to a ledge, the robots industry role is more mundane: it is hoped to take over the tasks humans currently fulfill in warehouses, again stacking and shifting boxes.
Despite all these advancements pioneers like Boston Dynamics have achieved, all these robots still suffer from one thing, Raibert claimed – stupidity. “I think what’s next is to make robots smarter, as right now they’re pretty dumb.”
Raibert has since gone on to head the Boston Dynamics AI Institute. A research-driven organisation, Raibert hopes this will lead to the next step for robots created by the company, and indeed, more broadly.
“What we are aiming for is to have AI advance in robots so that it can be shown a task by a human, learn how its done, do it itself, and then even communicate to other robots how to do that task.” Explained Raibert.
The Institute will focus on four core areas: cognitive AI, athletic AI, organic hardware design and robot ethics. Robot ethics has become increasingly of concern since the advent and explosion of generative AI software ChatGPT, with OpenAI CEO and Google AI researcher Dr Hinton warning of the potential problems it brings.