Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot strengthens its position in a niche market – TechTalks


This article is part of our series exploring the business of artificial intelligence

Boston Dynamics has just released the latest update to its famous Spot quadruped robot, giving it better ability to perform inspections and collect data without human intervention.

Called Spot Release 3.0, the new update adds “flexible battery life and repeatable data capture, making Spot the data collection solution you need to make inspection tours safer and more efficient.”

Unlike many other Boston Dynamics ads, this one doesn’t come with a flashy video. But it could have a huge impact on Spot’s position in the industrial mobile robot market, where it can reduce the costs of IoT instrumentation and the risks of exposing human operators to environmental risks.

Improved autonomy

One of the main features of Spot is Autowalk, a system that allows the robot to record and repeat trips. An operator guides the robot throughout the journey using the remote control interface. The robot remembers the path and can repeat when asked to do so. Autowalk can be used for inspection missions in industrial facilities, mines, factories and construction sites.

The new update improves Autowalk, reducing the need for human guidance and intervention. Robot operators can now edit Autowalk missions and add actions such as capturing images, reading indicators, or executing third-party code. Spot has also received better planning abilities and can find the best path to perform target actions. Its orientation ability has also been enhanced to accommodate changes in its inspection paths such as new obstacles. And it can be programmed to perform scheduled inspections without human supervision during off-peak hours.

Boston Dynamics has also improved Spot’s data collection and processing capabilities, including the ability to take images at the same angle during Autowalk cycles and have them processed through deep learning models run on the device. or in the cloud.

Spot was designed to facilitate the challenges of remote inspection by handling different terrains, slopes and obstacles. The new update aims to make Spot more self-sufficient and less dependent on human assistance.

Integration with the cloud

Another great feature of the new update is the improved compatibility with cloud services from Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM. Spot detection capabilities can be an alternative to manual data logging or IoT instrumentation, installing smart sensors on old infrastructure.

This functionality automatically integrates the data collected during Spot’s Autowalk into a larger workflow based on company data. The data can be combined with other sources of information and processed with analysis and machine learning tools for tasks such as tracking trends, detecting anomalies, and triggering warnings.

Is Spot Worth Its Price?

Robot Boston Dynamics Spot in mine

The place is expensive. The Explorer model costs $ 74,500. The Enterprise model, more suited to industrial environments, is more expensive, although the price is not listed on the company’s website. When used in industrial environments, it should be equipped with additional accessories such as 360 degree inspection camera ($ 29,750), lidar sensor ($ 18,450) or GPU processor for inference in-depth learning on the device ($ 24,500).

Quadrupedal robots aren’t the only game in town. Industrial drones can perform many inspection tasks that Spot and other similar robots do. But drones are limited by battery life and weight. They cannot be fitted with heavy equipment such as high fidelity lidars and power hungry GPUs.

Spot’s evolution over the past two years has made it an optimal choice for environments where the environment is too dangerous to send human operators and where internet connectivity is unstable or nonexistent and where you need a robot. able to perform tasks at a highly autonomous level. . Interestingly, two recent videos on the Boston Dynamics YouTube channel show that Spot is used in mines, which have these exact characteristics.

Spot can be fitted with heavy data collection and processing equipment and once it has been programmed to perform an Autowalk routine it can repeat it with little or no human intervention. The Enterprise model also supports an auto-charging docking station (price not shown), eliminating the need to manually recharge the robot between inspection routines.

And the new update will improve Spot’s battery life in harsh environments.

Considering the high costs of IoT instrumentation and the risks of sending human inspectors to hazardous industrial environments, Spot might be worth its insane price. In product management parlance, Spot seems to have achieved “product / market fit” meaning that it solves the problems of a specific market in a way superior to its alternatives. This is a positive development for Boston Dynamics, which has tried to create a viable business model around its extremely expensive research. And the new update allows Boston Dynamics to boost Spot’s value and potentially expand its market.

So while Spot will continue to feature in YouTube videos with Atlas and other Boston Dynamics bots, his real job will be to roam dark places humans can’t or won’t go.

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