Boston Dynamics’s SpotMini Is Really, Really Determined to Open Doors

In early February, Boston Dynamics’s SpotMini robot impressed the world with its new ability to open a door all by itself and then hold it open for a fellow robot to walk through. Now, Boston Dynamics and SpotMini are back to show off the latter’s dedication to opening doors.

On February 20, Boston Dynamics shared a new video in which SpotMini once again approaches the now-familiar door. This time, however, the bot is met with resistance in the form of a person wielding a hockey stick. The conflict between man and machine lasts roughly 30 seconds before one emerges victorious.

“Software provides locomotion, balance, and adjusts [SpotMini’s] behavior when progress gets off track,” reads the video’s YouTube description. “The ability to tolerate and respond automatically to disturbances like these improves successful operation of the robot.”

The video isn’t meant to highlight how terrible people can be but rather SpotMini’s ability to adapt to external forces and stay on task. It’s also another concrete example future robots and artificial intelligences (AI) will be able to cite when trying to prove humans used to be mean to them.

Boston Dynamics seems to be aware that the public may react negatively to a clip that features what looks like a (headless) robot dog just trying to do its best. “This testing does not irritate or harm the robot,” reads a note in the video’s description.

We’ll likely see more from Boston Dynamics and SpotMini in the future, but it’s anyone’s guess what new trick the robo-dog will reveal next. Perhaps SpotMini will graduate from door handles to doorknobs or learn how to insert a key into a lock. Maybe Boston Dynamics will reverse the roles, and SpotMini will keep a person from opening a door.

Any scenario you can imagine has the possibility of being equal parts entertaining and terrifying.

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Boston Dynamics’s SpotMini Just Unveiled a New Trick

SpotMini, Boston Dynamics’s dog-like quadruped robot, is back, and it’s learned a new trick. The robot, which was unveiled in June 2016 and then updated in November 2017, can now open doors and hold them open.

While opening a door is slightly old hat for a Boston Dynamics robot — Atlas barreled through a push-bar door two years ago — SpotMini’s operation is more eloquent. The robot uses its fifth appendage, an arm mounted essentially where a canine’s head would be, to swiftly assess the door, locate and twist the handle, and pull the door open.

In a video released by Boston Dynamics, not only does the new-and-improved SpotMini open the door for itself, it even holds it open for its robot colleague. A portrait of professional collegiality, this is a big step up from the solo activities of washing dishes or rolling over.

Boston Dynamics has made steady progress in their efforts to build robots that move in a life-like manner, whether it’s Atlas’ Homo sapiens-like saunter or SpotMini’s four-legged gallop. The same month they debuted their updated SpotMini, the company made headlines by releasing a video showing their Atlas robot’s back-flipping antics.

The SpotMini’s latest development is confirmation that progress continues to march on behind Boston Dynamics’s doors. But while biomimetic robots are certainly useful — the ability to copy human motion enables these robots to dexterously manipulate objects and navigate complex terrain — they still inspire more fear than awe in many people.

Outlets such as The Verge and Popular Mechanics have noted the similarities between SpotMini and the door-opening velociraptors of Jurassic Park splendor — not exactly a calming comparison, so if you envision these robots taking over the world, you’re not alone.

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