Boston Dynamics now has a long history of viral videos showing off its latest terrifying robots. Apparently its latest creation takes things even a step further. Onstage at the Abundance360 conference in Los Angeles yesterday, the company’s founder, Marc Raibert, showed the audience a video, prefacing it by saying: “This is the debut presentation of what I think will be a nightmare-inducing robot, if you’re anything like me.”
Raibert proceeded to show off the company’s latest experiment, a self-balancing robot with wheels and legs. His team is calling it “Handle,” as it’s eventually supposed to handle objects. The robot, which looks like a cross between Boston Dynamics’ own Atlas robot, and a hoverboard, is shown zipping around Boston Dynamics’ lab space with a grace and speed that very few humans on hoverboards have ever achieved. The robot is able to shift its own mass to stabilize itself as it zooms around, much like a human on a skateboard or rollerblades might. There’s even a clip of it zooming backwards down a hallway and pulling off a jump that would probably be difficult for the average human X-Games competitor to pull off.
But what’s the point of the new robot? “This is much more efficient than a legged robot,” Raibert said in the video shot by Steve Jurvetson, a venture capitalist and Elon Musk acolyte, adding that it can carry a large load for the size of its frame. He also said it was an experiment in whether Boston Dynamics could build what it considered to be a less-expensive robot than its humanoid Atlas robot, but still be a useful tool for customers.
While the robot’s extreme sports skills were impressive, it’s unlikely that Raibert’s “nightmare-inducing” comment will be well-received at Alphabet. The company has been looking for a buyer for Boston Dynamics for months, reportedly after its last robot launch video went viral, and amid what Alphabet perceived to be “some negative threads about it being terrifying.” The company was apparently in talks with Toyota about a takeover, but that has not as of yet materialized. Boston Dynamics is reportedly struggling to make money, especially after the US Navy said it would not be purchasing its robots.
Raibert’s presentation also showed off Atlas working in new situations, including walking around a bar room, and helping a human carry a stretcher. Both of these seem to hint at potential future use cases for the human-shaped robot.