|Parent||Google X (2013–2017)|
SoftBank Group (2017–present)
Boston Dynamics is an American engineering and robotics design company founded in 1992 as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts, Boston Dynamics is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group. The company is a pioneer in the field of robotics and it is one of the most advanced in its domain.
Boston Dynamics is best known for the development of a series of dynamic highly-mobile robots, including BigDog, Spot, Atlas, and Handle. These robots are perhaps most familiar to the world through their highly popular videos — the Boston Dynamics YouTube channel, for example, as of May 2020 has 1.72 Million subscribers, making it probably the largest YouTube channel focused on robotics. Since 2019, Spot has been made commercially available, making it the first commercially available robot from Boston Dynamics, with the company stating its intent to commercialize other robots as well, including Handle.
The company was founded by Marc Raibert, who spun the company off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992. Early in the company's history, it worked with the American Systems Corporation under a contract from the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD) to replace naval training videos for aircraft launch operations with interactive 3D computer simulations featuring characters made with DI-Guy, software for realistic human simulation. Eventually the company started making physical robots—for example, BigDog was a quadruped robot designed for the U.S. military with funding from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),.
On 13 December 2013, the company was acquired by Google X (later X, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.) for an unknown price, where it was managed by Andy Rubin until his departure from Google in 2014. Immediately before the acquisition, Boston Dynamics transferred their DI-Guy software product line to VT MÄK, a simulation software vendor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On 8 June 2017, Alphabet Inc. announced the sale of the company to Japan's SoftBank Group for an undisclosed sum. On April 2, 2019, Boston Dynamics acquired the Silicon Valley startup Kinema Systems.
BigDog was a quadrupedal robot created in 2004 by Boston Dynamics, in conjunction with Foster-Miller, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Harvard University Concord Field Station. It was funded by the DARPA in the hopes that it would be able to serve as a robotic pack mule to accompany soldiers in terrain too rough for vehicles, but the project was shelved after BigDog was deemed too loud to be used in combat. Instead of wheels, BigDog used four legs for movement, allowing it to move across surfaces that would defeat wheels. Called "the world's most ambitious legged robot", it was designed to carry 340 pounds (150 kg) alongside a soldier at 4 miles per hour (6.4 km/h; 1.8 m/s), traversing rough terrain at inclines up to 35 degrees.
The Cheetah is a four-footed robot that gallops at 28 miles per hour (45 km/h; 13 m/s), which as of August 2012 is a land speed record for legged robots.
A similar but independently developed robot also known as Cheetah is made by MIT's Biomimetic Robotics Lab, which, by 2014, could jump over obstacles while running. By 2018 the robot was able to climb stairs.
Around 2010 LittleDog was released, it's a small quadruped robot developed for DARPA by Boston Dynamics for research. Unlike BigDog, which is run by Boston Dynamics, LittleDog is intended as a testbed for other institutions. Boston Dynamics maintains the robots for DARPA as a standard platform.
LittleDog has four legs, each powered by three electric motors. The legs have a large range of motion. The robot is strong enough for climbing and dynamic locomotion gaits. The onboard PC-level computer does sensing, actuator control and communications. LittleDog's sensors measure joint angles, motor currents, body orientation and foot/ground contact. Control programs access the robot through the Boston Dynamics Robot API. Onboard lithium polymer batteries allow for 30 minutes of continuous operation without recharging. Wireless communications and data logging support remote operation and data analysis. LittleDog development is funded by the DARPA Information Processing Technology Office.
Legged Squad Support System (LS3), also known as AlphaDog, is a militarized version of BigDog. It is ruggedized for military use, with the ability to operate in hot, cold, wet, and dirty environments.
The Agile Anthropomorphic Robot "Atlas" is a 6-foot (183 cm) bipedal humanoid robot, based on Boston Dynamics' earlier PETMAN humanoid robot, and designed for a variety of search and rescue tasks.
In February 2016 Boston Dynamics published a YouTube video entitled "Atlas, The Next Generation" showing a new humanoid robot about 5' 9" tall (175 cm, about a head shorter than the original DRC Atlas). In the video, the robot is shown performing a number of tasks that would have been difficult or impossible for the previous generation of humanoid robots.
A video posted to the Boston Dynamics channel of YouTube dated 11 October 2018, titled "Parkour Atlas", shows the robot easily running up 2' high steps onto a platform.
Atlas is shown in a September 2019 YouTube video doing "More Parkour".
On June 23, 2016, Boston Dynamics revealed the four-legged canine-inspired Spot which only weighs 25 kg (55 pounds) and is lighter than their other products.
In February 2018, a promotional video of the Spot using its forward claw to open a door for another robot reached #1 on YouTube, with over 2 million views. A later video the same month showed Spot persisting in attempting to open the door in the face of human interference. Viewers perceived the robot as "creepy" and "reminiscent of all kinds of sci-fi robots that wouldn't give up in their missions to seek and destroy".
On May 11, 2018 CEO of Boston Dynamics Marc Raibert on TechCrunch Robotics Session 2018 announced that the Spot robot was in pre-production and preparing for commercial availability in 2019. On its website, Boston Dynamics highlights that Spot is the “quietest robot [they] have built.” The company says it has plans with contract manufacturers to build the first 100 Spots later that year for commercial purposes, with them starting to scale production with the goal of selling Spot in 2019. However, in September 2019, journalists were informed that the robots will not be sold, but they will be given on lease to selected business partners. In November 2019 Massachusetts State Police became the first enforcement agency to use Spot mini as robot cop as well as in the unit's bomb squad.
Since January 23, 2020, Spot's SDK is available for anyone via GitHub. It will allow programmers to develop custom applications for Spot to do various actions that could be used across different industries. On June 16, 2020 Boston Dynamics made Spot available for the general public to purchase at a price of $74,500 USD.
Handle is a research robot with two flexible legs on wheels and two "hands" for manipulating or carrying objects. It can stand 6.5 ft (198 cm) tall, travel at 9 mph (14.5 km/h) and jump 4 feet (122 cm) vertically. It uses electric power to operate various electric and hydraulic actuators, with a range of about 15 miles (24 km) on one battery charge. Handle uses many of the same dynamics, balance and mobile manipulation principles found in the other robots by Boston Dynamics, but with only about 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex.
In popular culture
- Metalhead (Black Mirror) (2017) features killer-robot dogs resembling, and inspired by, Boston Dynamics robot dogs.
- In June 2019, a parody video went viral across social media in which a robot resembling Atlas was abused, before turning on its human attackers. The video turned out to be the work of Corridor Digital, who used the watermark "Bosstown Dynamics" instead of "Boston Dynamics".
- In Heroes of the Storm (2015), a multiplayer video game by Blizzard Entertainment, playable heroes are able to move quickly through the battleground by using mount called "Project: D.E.R.P.A" which references to one of the Boston Dynamics' quadrupedal robots.
- The HBO Show Silicon Valley has had two prominent references to the company ‒ an episode featured a robotics company called Somerville Dynamics named after Somerville, a city that neighbors Boston, as well as in the season premiere of Season 3 featured a real Boston Dynamics Spot robot, seen crossing a street.
- Danielle Muoio (June 27, 2016). Business Insider are all the crazy-advanced robots built by Google's Boston Dynamics group https://www.businessinsider.com/all-the-crazy-robots-boston-dynamics-has-built-2016-6Ititle=Here are all the crazy-advanced robots built by Google's Boston Dynamics group Check
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- "MIT reveals how its military-funded Cheetah robot can now jump over obstacles on its own".
- Becker, Rachel (July 5, 2018). "MIT's Cheetah 3 robot can run up stairs without watching its steps". The Verge.
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