Humans are getting pretty good at designing robots. We’ve got amazingly realistic robot spiders, a robot raptor that can out-run Usain Bolt, robot snakes, and hexapod robots with robot snakes for legs. We’ve even left one to its own devices on Mars. And now we have ’Spot’, a robotic quadruped developed by roboticists at the Boston Dynamics lab, a Google-owned spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), based in the US.
And as you can see in the video above, Spot can do some pretty incredible things, including running up and down hills; traversing uneven, rocky terrain; navigating an office; and running in perfect sync with a twin Spot robot.
Looking at how far we’ve come in building robots, it’s clear that robot armies are coming, we’re going to build them eventually, but there’s no guarantee that once we do, we’ll be able to continue to bend them our will. As Stephen Hawking told the BBC late last year, "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
So you know what’s a bad idea, when you’re dealing with something that could one day rise up and overthrow you? Giving it a good ol’ kick in the mechanical guts. "Ha ha, dumb robot,” we really shouldn’t say, as we stick a foot out and trip it down the stairs. "That’ll teach you to go walking around triumphantly on those four legs like you own them. Who made you, robot? We did. We own you.”
Chipping away at their AI self-esteem through countless years of patronising remarks and passive-aggressive put-downs is infinitely more likely to keep them in our thrall. “Oh, you tripped down those stairs, little robot? That’s okay, it’s not your fault. I should have designed your legs to be a little more nimble, my bad. At least you tried.” or “Oh, you brought me coffee, when I specifically asked for tea? No, it’s fine, I’ll drink it. Don’t worry, you’ll get it eventually. Here, let me write the difference down on this Post-It note and stick it to your arm. Maybe you can bring one of your little robot friends to the kitchen next time, and you can figure it out together?"
In all seriousness, Spot is such an incredible piece of technology. It’s a more refined version of Boston Dynamics’ WildCat robot, which it showed off in late 2013. Less bulky, and more agile, Spot is electrically powered, with four hydraulic legs, and uses a sensor built into its ‘head’ to help it navigate its surroundings, so it can walk or trot its 72-kilogram (160-pound) body over hills, down stairs, or through urban bushland. And boy, can it sustain a kick, even if it looks heartbreakingly wounded on the inside as it does it. Spot’s not mad at us, he’s just disappointed.
Spot is the smaller version of Boston Dynamics’ aptly named BigDog robot, which marches its 108-kilogram bulk around the place with much less zip. The team has also invented the ‘SandFlea’ robot - a 5-kilogram robot that drives like a remote control car on flat terrain, and can jump almost 10 metres in the air to overcome obstacles - and Petman, an anthropomorphic robot designed for testing chemical protection clothing. Oh and there’s also RiSE (eek!), a small lizard-like robot that can climb walls, trees, and fences.
The robots are coming, are we going to be smart enough to handle them?
Gif courtesy of The Next Web. Head over to their story about Spot, it's awesome.