Whatever you do, don’t mess with Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini robot

If the robot uprising starts anywhere, it’s going to be in Boston Dynamics’ workshop in Waltham, Massachusetts. And looking at the latest video from the team, it may have already begun.

It shows SpotMini, a dog-like robot first shown off in 2016 and improved upon with a new design in November last year. Earlier this month, Boston Dynamics unveiled version 3, featuring an extendable arm first seen with the original SpotMini but removed for the second iteration. The arm rises up from the top of its torso and is agile enough to open doors, an ability that will look cute to some though extremely worrying to those with darker thoughts about where this could all be leading.

A new video posted on Tuesday, February 20 shows how this impressive four-legged robot deals with what Boston Dynamics describes as “disturbances.” A disturbance could be something like a terrified human using Elon Musk’s flamethrower to take on SpotMini, though in this particular case it involves a calm engineer prodding it with a stick.

In the video, we see SpotMini once again trying to open a door. Despite the engineer’s efforts to stop it, the unflappable dog-bot remains very much focused on grabbing the handle.

There’s a bizarre moment where the man suddenly pulls a leash from the robot’s butt, a feature that appears to be a sort of kill switch, though if it is, it didn’t work very well. For whatever reason, the man drops the leash and the robot effortlessly opens the door before entering the neighboring office to (possibly) wreak havoc. The video fades before we hear any screams.

Boston Dynamics has released few details about SpotMini, preferring instead to scare the bejeezus out of anxious types by posting a series of short videos instead.

But this week’s clip does offer a little insight into its latest robotic effort. SpotMini, you’ll be pleased to learn, isn’t entirely autonomous (yet), as the video had an off-camera human with a remote controller guiding the robot to the door. However, when it reaches the door, SpotMini flips into autonomous mode.

“A camera in the hand finds the door handle, cameras on the body determine if the door is open or closed and help navigate through the doorway,” the team explains in a message accompanying the video. “Controllers provide locomotion and balance, and adjust behavior when progress gets off track. The ability to tolerate and respond to disturbances like these improves successful operation of the robot.”

The message ends with: “This testing does not irritate or harm the robot.” We’re not sure whether to take this as an animal welfare quip or as an ominous reference to SpotMini’s remarkable abilities.

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