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Robot specialist Boston Dynamics offers rare look inside its workshop

Robot specialist Boston Dynamics has made a name for itself in recent years, building incredibly agile machines that can run, leap, somersault, and even pull nifty dance moves designed to give the best human hip-shakers a run for their money.

Its rare for Boston Dynamics to open its doors to anyone other than employees, but after “years” of asking, CBS’s 60 Minutes team was recently granted special access to the company’s Massachusetts workshop.

A video on the 60 Minutes website features Anderson Cooper touring the workshop and meeting some of the personnel, including Marc Raibert, the founder and chairman of Boston Dynamics.

Anyone who’s followed the trials and tribulations of Boston Dynamics robots such as Spot, Atlas, and Handle will know that the company is happy to share videos of when things go wrong with their robots — not just when they go right.

Failure is a big part of the development process at Boston Dynamics, with Raibert revealing his team’s motto as: “Build it, break it, fix it.”

Raibert also spoke about an extraordinary video (below) in which his team recently assembled several of its advanced robots for a dance session that showcased their impressive ability to move and balance in a way similar to humans and animals, revealing that the project took eight months to work out and execute.

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Strutting on the dance floor is all well and good, but with Korean auto giant Hyundai buying Boston Dynamics from SoftBank last year in a deal reported to be worth $1 billion, the team may be under greater pressure to start monetizing some of its creations.

Moving in that direction, Boston Dynamics recently started selling Spot, targeting the $75,000 robot at an array of industries. Trial deployments have already taken place on an oil and gas production vessel and at a Ford car factory, among other places.

The company is also working on a new robot called Stretch, which is set to go on sale in 2022. Stretch is a wheel-based machine with a seven-foot arm and is designed for warehouse work. The mobile robot, which is shown off for the first time in the 60 Minutes report, can move around 800 boxes an hour and work for up to 16 hours without needing a break to recharge.

“This generation of robots is going to be different,” said Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter. “They’re going to work amongst us. They’re going to work next to us, in ways where we help them but they also take some of the burden from us.”

As for his take on the feared robot uprising that so many people mention when they see Boston Dynamics’ robots getting to their feet, Playter insists there’s nothing to worry about, saying, “People do attribute to our robots much more than they should.”

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