Walking robot maker prepares to unleash its dog-like machine

In this July 20, 2017 file photo, Boston Dynamics Chief Executive Marc Raibert speaks about his four-legged robot SpotMini during a SoftBank World presentation at a hotel in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)
Updated 12 May 2018

Walking robot maker prepares to unleash its dog-like machine

  • Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert said Friday that his company plans to begin selling the dog-like SpotMini robot next year.
  • SpotMini gets around with the help of cameras on its front, sides and one mounted on its rear.

BERKELEY, California: A robotics company known for its widely shared videos of nimble, legged robots opening doors or walking through rough terrain is preparing to sell some after more than a quarter century of research.
Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert said Friday that his company plans to begin selling the dog-like SpotMini robot next year, likely to businesses for use as a camera-equipped security guard.
But he thinks other applications for the four-legged contraption will be likely developed by other companies, because the robot has a flat platform to allow other equipment with its own computer programming to be easily mounted on top of it.
SpotMini gets around with the help of cameras on its front, sides and one mounted on its rear — a position that Raibert calls the “butt-cam.”
Boston Dynamics already has made 10 SpotMinis with plans to manufacture about 100 more for additional testing this year before going into mass production by the middle of next year, Raibert said. No price has been set for the robot yet, though Raibert said making the latest prototype costs about one-tenth the price of earlier versions.
Raibert unveiled the SpotMini plans at the University of California, Berkeley, during a TechCrunch conference focused on the rise of robotics and its potential to perform a wide range of tasks and jobs now handled by humans.
Founded in 1992, Boston Dynamics rarely reveals its plans except by posting YouTube videos that have impressed and terrified people. Most of Boston Dynamics’ robotics research had been applied in the military until Google bought the Waltham, Massachusetts, company in 2013. Japanese tech giant SoftBank bought Boston Dynamics from Google last year.
Although Boston Dynamics never released a commercial robot under Google, Raibert credited his company’s former owner for helping it to start thinking of ways to bring its technology to a broader market.
Toward that end, he also showed the conference a video of Atlas, a two-legged robot that has learned how to sort and pick up packages, jump up and off blocks, jog and perform back flips. He said Boston Dynamics still hasn’t figured out how to make money from Atlas yet.
“This machine is really trying to push the boundary of the future,” Raibert said.
He also mentioned the possibility of building robots to help with construction projects, though he didn’t provide any further details about that ambition on Friday.


Pentagon awards United Launch Alliance, SpaceX launch contracts

Updated 09 August 2020

Pentagon awards United Launch Alliance, SpaceX launch contracts

  • The two companies lay claim to billions of dollars in lucrative military contracts for a span of five years

WASHINGTON: The US Air Force said it awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Elon Musk’s SpaceX $653 million in combined military launch contracts under the Pentagon’s next-generation, multibillion-dollar launch capability program.

The contracts are for launch service orders beginning in 2022 and allocate $337 million to ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp., and $316 million to SpaceX for the first missions of roughly 34 total that the two rocket firms will support through 2027.

ULA will receive a contract for approximately 60 percent of those launch service orders using its next-generation Vulcan rocket, while Musk’s SpaceX, using its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, will receive approximately 40 percent, the Air Force’s acquisition chief Will Roper told reporters on Friday.

The awards are part of the Pentagon’s 2014 mandate from Congress to curb its dependency on rockets using Russia’s RD-180 engine and transition to US-made rockets for launching Washington’s most sensitive national security payloads to space.

The program, called National Security Space Launch Phase 2, is aimed at “building a competitive industry base that we hope doesn’t just help military and national security missions, but that helps our nation continue to compete and dominate in space,” Roper added.

“Today’s awards mark a new epoch of space launch thatwill finally transition the Department off Russian RD-180 engines,” Roper said in a statement.

The two companies lay claim to billions of dollars in lucrative military contracts for a span of five years that competitors Blue Origin, the space company of Amazon.com Inc. owner Jeff Bezos, and Northrop Grumman also competed for.

Blue Origin Chief Executive Bob Smith said in a statement he was “disappointed” in the Pentagon’s decision, adding that the company will continue to develop its heavy-lift New Glenn rocket “to fulfill our current commercial contracts, pursue a large and growing commercial market, and enter into new civil space launch contracts.”