Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot gives New Zealand sheepdogs a run for their money

Previously immune to the threat of techno-replacement (unless you want to count robot pets like Sony’s Aibo), sheepdogs in New Zealand are currently facing competition from the encroaching wave of automation, courtesy of Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot.

A new video shows Spot carrying out a variety of assistive agricultural tasks, including inspecting crops and, yes, herding sheep.

While it’s unlikely a real-life sheepdog has much to fear from Boston Dynamics’ bounding machine, it’s a pretty impressive demonstration for the canine-inspired robot, which finally went on sale last year after years of research and development in the lab.

In the video released May 19, Spot is shown navigating rugged environments to capture real-time data. This information can then be fed back to those who require it.

A press release issued by Boston Dynamics and robot operations software platform Rocos describes how this could be useful in scenarios such as helping farmers to “access information such as more accurate and up-to-date yield estimates.”

“The age of autonomous robots is upon us,” Rocos CEO David Inggs said in a statement. “We’re working with organizations like Boston Dynamics to help accelerate the adoption of robotics. By connecting robots to the cloud, we can help them combine a cloud software layer with robotics to achieve physical automation at scale. Our customers are augmenting their human workforces to automate physical processes that are often dull, dirty, or dangerous.”

Boston Dynamics isn’t the only company to have canine robots out working in the real world. ANYbotics, the Swiss robotics company that makes the four-legged ANYmal robot, has already started using the robots for carrying out tasks such as inspections on oil rigs.

Ultimately, this is where the value of these robots is going to be seen. No, farmers aren’t necessarily going to do away with centuries of tradition by replacing sheepdogs with robots. But being able to demonstrate genuinely helpful applications and tasks is what is going to make the business case for robots such as Spot and ANYmal. If they really can prove their worth in this way, that’s something far more valuable than just another fun viral video that shows off these robots’ impressive dance moves in the lab.

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