Boston Dynamics has finally begun selling Spot, its dog-like agile robot that can climb stairs and traverse rough terrain. The robot is officially available to researchers, academics, and corporate customers for $74,500 with a limit of two per customer; the former two groups can get Spot at a discount if they contact the company directly.
Spot has become infamous over the years for appearing in viral videos that show it opening doors and standing back up after being kicked over. The videos invariably excite or terrify people, who imagine these robots someday developing artificial general intelligence and deciding on their own to exterminate the human race.
Going where no man should — Boston Dynamics' hopes for Spot are a bit more positive. The company is selling Spot as a robot that can improve workplace safety by replacing humans for dangerous work, like surveying a mine or nuclear site. That's why it thinks it can charge such a steep price for Spot — workplace injuries and associated insurance are a huge business expense. If a company saves $1,000,000 by deploying Spot in environments dangerous to humans, the price Boston Dynamics charges is nothing.
Spot was previously available to a limited number of early adopters under a leasing program that allowed them to test the robot and help Boston Dynamics figure out what it could actually be useful for. The company says that it found certain use cases made no sense, such as providing security in a mall, because a simple camera could do the same job at a much lower cost. But in another case, Spot was able to save a construction company 20 hours of labor per week by automating the capture of nearly 5,000 images weekly on a large construction site.
A really expensive video game — Spot can be operated much in the same way you navigate Google Street View. Cameras on the front and sides stream to a computer where a user can click on objects in the environment, and Spot will navigate to them, climbing stairs or traversing uneven terrain if it needs to. Users can also use WASD keys on their keyboard to navigate in every direction.
Spot is also highly customizable with mounting rails, payload ports, and a software development kit so developers can add other attachments to enhance its capabilities further. Attaching a 360-degree camera, another construction company was able to automate the capture of laser scans and 360-degree images to reduce project delays at the Denver International Airport. Boston Dynamics is developing a robotic arm so that Spot could someday pick up and manipulate objects.
And fortunately most experts in artificial intelligence say we're nowhere near developing general artificial intelligence that can think and make choices for itself. So you can rest easy tonight knowing Spot won't be coming for you anytime soon.