At a technology conference in Hannover, Germany, Marc Raibert, the founder of Boston Dynamics, outlined how his company may soon begin to turn its decades-long robotics research into an actual business.
Boston Dynamics was sold to SoftBank by Alphabet last year following concerns around its ability to generate revenue. Since the acquisition, it seems that the company has ramped up testing on its increasingly dexterous and nimble robots. Earlier this year, Raibert said the company planned to start selling its SpotMini robot dogs in 2019, and onstage this week, he said the company plans to produce about 100 of the robots by the end of this year. The goal is to begin mass production at the rate of about 1,000 robots per year in the middle of 2019.
A slide in Raibert’s presentation at CEBIT was titled, “SpotMini Product Platform: ‘The Android of Robots’,” implying the robots will become the ubiquitous open-source platform for robots that Android has become for smartphones. He envisions the robots being modified to work in a range of fields, such as construction, security, last-mile delivery, and even helping out around the home.
“It’s designed to be a platform,” Raibert said. “Boston Dynamics built these [robots], but we plan for third parties to design payloads… that are added to the robot to specialize it for different customers’ applications.”
Most of the applications Raibert described onstage seem a little far-flung—how many of you want one of these soulless, metallic robot dogs carrying your laundry basket or dropping Amazon packages off at your front door? But some seem more realistic in the near-term. He showed off a demonstration of a SpotMini that had been fitted with cameras and programmed to patrol the corridors of a facility. Although there are already security robots, they’re generally slow, massive, and terrible at handling uneven terrain. SpotMini can easily manage staircases, and get around just about any object in its path.
Raibert didn’t get into how much these robots would cost, or when exactly they’d be available for sale. SoftBank wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Watch Rabiert’s entire presentation below: