Boston Dynamics’ Spot adds self-charging to live at remote sites forever


Boston Dynamics
There are also new browser-based controls and a robotic arm attachment

Boston Dynamics’ robotic dog, Spot, is getting a lot more self-sufficient. Today the company is announcing Spot Enterprise, a new version of the robot that features a charging stand to top up its batteries without any human interaction. The robotics company is also announcing Scout, a new browser-based control system that offers a streamlined interface for piloting Spot over the internet, as well as a new robotic arm to help the robot “grasp, lift, carry, place, and drag a wide variety of objects.”

The new features follow Boston Dynamics’ announcement last June that it was making the Spot Explorer robot available to any company that could afford its $74,500 price tag. The way Boston Dynamics describes it, today’s announcements are a response to the kinds of features Spot’s early buyers have been requesting. The company says there are currently over 400 Spot robots out in the world.

“Customers in a lot of industries have sites with important equipment that are largely unstaffed, and it could take hours to dispatch someone to go check on something relatively simple,” Spot’s chief engineer Zack Jackowski tells me over a video call. “What they want to do is to put a Spot there permanently. That way, the person who is attached to follow up on an alarm going off or a routine inspection can just dial into a robot, stand up, and go take a look around.”

Boston Dynamics’ web-based Scout software is part of its attempt to streamline remote control. For now, it mostly turns Spot into an expensive telepresence robot. Boston Dynamics tells me its new arm doesn’t work with its web-based software yet, making Spot better suited to inspecting and photographing an environment rather than physically interacting with it. Once the robotic arm is integrated with Scout, however, the robot should be able to do things like operate valves, pull levers, or turn handles, while its operator sits hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

Scout works with the company’s existing Spot Explorer, as well as the new Spot Enterprise robots. Although the new robot also features other upgrades like a more powerful CPU designed to run more advanced autonomy algorithms in the future, its self-charging capabilities are the major new feature. While the current Spot Explorer has around 90 minutes of battery life, the new Spot Enterprise can live on a remote site with a charging station “indefinitely.” When combined with Scout, the hope is that businesses can use Spot as an alternative to dispatching personnel to remote sites.

The charging station works using “fiducial markers,” small QR-code-like pictures that Spot’s cameras can identify and use to navigate. Once it’s close enough to the charging station to see its marker, Spot is able to position and lower itself so it comes into contact with the charging connectors on the stand. The stand also includes a hardwired internet connection, which makes it quicker and more reliable to upload sensor data gathered by Spot during its travels.

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