The next 12 months might be the period when the dreaded “robot apocalypse” swings into effect, as Japanese-based SoftBank, has reportedly invested an additional $37 million into next-generation robotics company Boston Dynamics.
Boston, which was founded in 1992 out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was acquired by SoftBank in July 2017 from Alphabet, the parent company of Google, in a $100 million transaction.
The acquisition was majorly seen as a play by SoftBank’s founder and CEO Masayoshi Son to capitalize on what he saw as a prospective surge in demand for advancement in robotics. According to Son, an increase in the percentage of the ageing population will lead to robots taking up leading and central roles in the lives of people, paving their way into the global workforce.
Details of the latest investment into Boston were shown by accounts filed by Companies House which show that SoftBank Group Capital, the overseas investment vehicle of SoftBank Global, processed two loans to Boston in June and September 2018 respectively, totalling $37 million. The accounts further showed that the loans, which were at a 2.4 percent interest rate, were converted into Boston Dynamics common shares on January 7.
Boston has a history of working with the United States Military, but the company has now gone mainstream thanks to its humanoids Atlas and Petman, as well as its animal-like Spot, BigDog and Wildcat. Videos of the humanoid robots have been circulated over the Internet, with most reactions claiming that the robots were “freaky.”
Most of the videos which have been released by the company have shown some of the roots being operated remotely by humans, but it now seems that they’re advanced enough to navigate their environments on their own.
Atlas, the latest in the company’s line of humanoid robots was built with a control system that coordinated motion in its torso, arms, and legs. The company claimed that it could achieve whole-body manipulation which helps it to carry out complex tasks in large workspaces while only occupying a small footprint. It was also touted as being able to achieve body balance, with advanced features such as stereo sensors and range sensing.
Petman was the robot designed for Boston for the U.S. Department of Defense. The robot is capable of a great many human-like motions, including wearing clothes, doing pushups, and of course, walking. For now, it has been confirmed that Petman won’t be used in active military duty. Instead, it will be responsible for testing chemical protection clothing for soldiers. It is also useful in specific emergency missions that are considered too dangerous for humans, such as firefighting, and emergency rescue in hazardous environments.
Speaking at a TechCrunch robotics conference in May 2018, Boston’s founder Marc Raibert announced that the company would begin making sales of SpotMini, one of its dog-shaped robots in 2019. Raibert stated that the company was in the process of building about a hundred robots over the course of two years, and they were already looking to contract the project to available manufacturers.
SpotMini, which was developed over a couple of years, is the smaller version of the Spot mentioned above (itself created in 2015). SpotMini weighs about 66 pounds, and it is expected to come with a battery that can last for 90 minutes.