The yellow robot dogs that so unsettled people in February by opening a door for one another can now easily walk up and down stairs on their own.
Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert — who founded the robot company known for building machines that mimic real animal and human movements — said Friday at the TechCrunch Robotics Sessions conference at UC Berkeley that the robots, called SpotMini, will be ready for purchase in 2019.
While declining to offer a price on the 66-pound, relatively quiet, and uniquely agile robot dogs, Raibert did say that they’re designed to be deployed in commercial office building-like settings — and then eventually homes.
Raibert presented the above video at the conference, which showed the dogs navigating the Boston Dynamics lab on their own. But, although the robot is traversing autonomously, this shouldn’t be confused with “AI,” the hot, and often misapplied buzzword in today’s tech realm.
To be clear, these robots have been given sophisticated motion detection software that maps out the boundaries of where they can go and where they absolutely shouldn’t go. That’s why the robots so confidently scaled the stairs, while staying clear of the edges. They “see” a navigational map in real time, which appears in the video at the bottom left of the screen.
“It knows it can’t bump into the railings,” said Raibert.
Today, the term “AI” is most accurately used to describe software — like image recognition — that is fed a wealth of information, which it can then use to make well-informed predictions on its own. This often involves being wrong, and self-correcting.
For example, in 2017 Google’s DeepMind researchers built an AI program that, over the course of a month, taught itself to become the world’s most dominant Go (an ancient Chinese board game) player, without any previous knowledge of how to win.
Some of today’s leading AI researchers, however, will make the argument that this isn’t true intelligence, but rather impressively complex machines performing sophisticated number-crunching.
Atop the robot in the video is also a small, white rectangular box, which shows how any (capable) third-party users can make their own hardware devices — like an enhanced radio receiver or specialized camera — and attach it to the robot for their specific surveillance needs.
The constant movement of four legs, however, drains the robots’ batteries pretty quickly. They’re capable of moving around for 90 minutes before needing to recharge.