Spot is the latest effort from Boston Dynamics, the Google-owned robotics company known for creating the freaky humanoid robot Atlas and the four-legged automaton originally known as Big Dog. Announced via YouTube video on Monday, Spot is less strong but more agile than its larger cousin. From the demo video, it’s unclear whether the robo-puppy is capable of throwing cinder blocks at you as you cower in terror, but Spot is oddly unsettling nonetheless.
At the same time, it’s also kind of cute.
While many of Boston Dynamics projects were born out of contracts with DARPA to design robots that can assist soldiers in the field—for things like carrying heavy loads or drone-like reconnaissance—Google and DARPA have indicated they intend to untangle themselves out of mutual interest. Google announced last year it would reject DARPA funding for its growing number of robots going forward, and would take one of its companies’ robots out of a DARPA competition. Still, the ATLAS design and other of its projects continue to influence many academic and government robotics efforts.
Like ATLAS, Spot is self-balancing, which enables it to resist outside forces that might otherwise knock it out of commission. In this case, it weathers what appears to be a pretty aggressive kick from a grown man. In the wild, its biggest threats might be humans, falling debris or real-life animals, depending on where and how Spot is put to work.
It’s a pretty impressive technical feat, powered by a small electric motor in concert with hydraulic actuators and an array of sensors. As freaky as it is to watch, you’ll probably be delighted if you ever get lost dangerously far off the hiking trail and Spot shows up. It might be another story if these things ever start making decisions on their own, though.
And just a reminder: Google’s also investing in artificial intelligence companies like DeepMind, which think about how to make that possible, too.