SpotMini is relentless. Credit: Boston Dynamics / Youtube.

SpotMini is relentless. Credit: Boston Dynamics / Youtube.

Boston Dynamics is probably the coolest robotics company in the universe. The people who work there are the brains behind some of the most incredible contraptions known to man like Atlas (the humanoid bot), Handle (an Atlas on wheels), Cheetah (the robot that runs faster than Usain Bolt), and the amazing dog-like SpotMini. When the latter bot was unveiled for the first time in 2016, it blew everyone away with its huge versatility and agility.

SpotMini can climb stairs, navigate rough terrain, jump, and do all sorts of crazy acrobatics.

An early, 'naked' version of SpotMini. Credit: Boston Dynamics.

An early, ‘naked’ version of SpotMini. Credit: Boston Dynamics.

What of the hardest things SpotMini ca do — at least for a robot — is opening doors. You might have never given this much thought, but opening a door is a pretty complex maneuver, mechanically speaking. You need precise articulation, good balance, and good movement. But SpotMini is up to the task with its very weird arm-face (or face-arm, I’m not sure which takes precedence).

Recently,  the company — which has a history of abusing its robots — released a video in which a SpotMini is supposed to open a door with its arm. This shouldn’t normally be a problem. After all, previously Boston Dynamics released another video showing a SpotMini opening and holding the door for a peer (which I recommend you check out). This time, however, our uncomfortable-looking Fido was obstructed by some dimwit human engineer.

As the robot tries to open the door with its arm, the human tries all sorts of gimmicks to block or push the robot aside entirely. However, the robot is able to perform some very impressive maneuvers that correct for extreme forces, all while still trying to precisely perform its task (opening the door). It doesn’t even seem irritated. Wouldn’t want to be in that human’s place once the tables turn — and they will, they will…

Perhaps the most important part of the test is also the subtlest. If previous demonstrations of SpotMinis were remote controlled by a human, this test is completely autonomous, or at least that’s what Boston Dynamics boasts (and we’re gonna have to take their word for it, for now).

But don’t start thinking SpotMini is too smart. Engineers prepared for this test and the ‘door opening’ scenario in particular. It’s unlikely SpotMini is able to navigate very well unfamiliar settings like going from room to room, meeting all sorts of new obstacles and so on. It would, at least, do so very anxiously.

Nevertheless, it’s amazing to witness this level of self-guidance in early 2018. Boston Dynamics is less than a decade old and it’s already producing amazing things. The future is bound to be very interesting (and frightening).

Offtopic: was this my best headline of the year? LOL! 

 

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