Boston Dynamics, the nightmare factory that was for a time one of Alphabet’s more ill-advised properties, has once again released footage of a new robot that can do things robots aren’t supposed to be able to do.
This time it’s a video of a robot called SpotMini (the BigDog maker loves canine references) using a claw-like arm (where the head should be) to open and hold open a door, for the benefit of another robot that would like to pass through it.
What’s not clear is how much the robot’s actions are being externally controlled, or whether some sort of automated cooperation between the robots is at play here.
Boston Dynamics has for the last half-year been owned by the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, but for the preceding three-and-a-half years it was Google’s property.
At the time, Google wanted to make robots that it could offer to enterprise customers in the manufacturing and retail spaces. Super-flexible, autonomous robots hold great potential here.
However, Google also had to deal with the uncomfortable optics resulting from the fact that Boston Dynamics was a defense contractor—meaning Google itself became a defense contractor with the purchase.
The tech giant started trying to offload Boston Dynamics in 2016, as it wasn’t giving Alphabet products that wouldn’t end up on the battlefield. SoftBank snapped the company up, along with Alphabet’s Schaft robotics business, in mid-2017.
“Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the information revolution,” said SoftBank chair Masayoshi Son at the time.