Hounded by a blind robot

Standing two metres tall and weighing in at 105kg, Boston Dynamics’ “Handle” is a thing of nightmares.

But then, all of Boston Dynamics’ creations are things of nightmares.

The video of its “SpotMini” robot dogs opening doors is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who watches it.

The movements are so precise it looks like a computer animation. But it’s not, it’s real.

In another video, a Boston Dynamics worker hits SpotMini with a stick while it goes about its terrifying duties. The robot, unfazed, simply stands back up and carries on as if nothing happened.

Even though you know it’s no more alive than a roll of sellotape, you can’t help feeling like it is.

Logically you understand it doesn’t have emotions and can’t sense pain. But it is incredibly difficult to convince yourself of this.

These robots entered the “uncanny valley” some time ago, and it doesn’t look like they’ll leave it anytime soon.

The uncanny valley is what happens when objects become too much like and not enough like humans at the same time.

Things that aren’t at all human-like we are fine with. And things that are extremely human-like, we’re also fine with.

But within the range of not at all human-like to extremely human-like, there is a section which makes us feel “off”.

It’s too human to be cute and not human enough to stop being creepy.

Here you can see the uncanny valley plotted on a graph by the University of California, San Francisco.

Source: University of California, San Francisco

In Boston Dynamics’ case, it’s not so much the way its robots look, but the way they move that creeps us out.

Case in point, Handle.

This robot is perhaps even scarier than SpotMini. It looks like one of the Wheelers from Return to Oz crossed with a horse.

It also looks like the way it moves shouldn’t be possible. But it is.

Here’s a video of it (click the video to watch it on YouTube):

Still, at least Boston Dynamics’ robots use cameras to see where they’re going.

MIT’s “Cheetah 3” can do everything blind.

Here’s a picture of it climbing the stairs to an official-looking building.

Source: MIT YouTube

Not only can it climb stairs, but it can also “leap and gallop across rough terrain, climb a staircase littered with debris, and quickly recover its balance when suddenly yanked or shoved.”

Those researchers just love shoving their robots about.

You can see the full video of its blind abilities here.

Joking aside, these developments are going to be crucial to search and rescue missions in the future. Robots that can navigate difficult terrain in places too dangerous for humans to go will save many lives.

They will also become increasingly important in much more mundane duties like care for the elderly.

I wrote last year about the “demographic time bomb” many countries are now facing, and how robot caretakers might be the answer. You can read it here.

And this is clearly something Boston Dynamics has been thinking about, too, as it has another video of SpotMini doing tasks around the house.

It can load a dishwasher, bring its owner a drink, and of course fall over on some banana peels Boston Dynamics has purposefully left lying around. All the while being absolutely terrifying.

It’s fantastic to be able to watch these developments happen in real time.

True, they may be only at the research stage right now. But it is only a matter of time before robots like these become completely integrated into our everyday lives.

For the moment, I guess I’ll just have to make do with my robot vacuum cleaner.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Robotics

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