You read stories about how robots will save Japan’s aging population, tucking them into bed and doing their dishes. And then you see what those robots actually look like–the equivalent of sticking a mannequin on a remote-controlled car. These robots may be smart or strong, but they simply don’t have the mobility to make it around the average home.
Now, Boston Dynamics–the company made famous by building the 240-pound quadruped robot BigDog for DARPA and then kicking the crap out of a smaller version called Spot–has developed an even smaller, more family-friendly version of its ultra-agile robot. They call it the SpotMini. Standing at thigh height and just 65 pounds fully loaded, it’s about the size and weight of a golden retriever.
Like America’s favorite dog, it can sneak under a dining room table, or jog up the stairs. SpotMini will even reach onto your kitchen counter to take things. In this regard, SpotMini may be a lot more useful than your average domestic robot. He has a remarkably nimble clamp arm for a head that’s capable of loading glasswear into a dishwasher (though, I’ll admit, he could be a bit more gentle with the Riedel). SpotMini navigates through your home with “a variety of sensors” including 3-D depth cameras. And he runs a remarkable 90 minutes on a charge, which is better than most Roombas.
It’s enough to make you wonder if the domestic robot industry has been tackling the wrong problem. Rather than developing friendly humanoid assistants, it makes more sense to model a household robot after man’s best friend. After all, the aging population of Japan love their Aibos so much that they track down Aibo veterinarians to keep their dogs alive. Imagine if an Aibo could repay the favor.