You could soon buy one of Boston Dynamics’ military-grade walking robots. The Verge claims Boston Dynamics will start marketing its dog-shaped Spot robot soon.
Spot is the smaller and sleeker commercial version of Boston Dynamics’ famous Big Dog. They built Big Dog as a robot pack mule for the US military. However, the Department of Defense rejected Big Dog claiming it is too noisy.
Spot weighs 30 kilograms (66.14 pounds) and can carry a 30.87 pound (14 kilogram) payload, the Boston Dynamics website claims. Spot’s features include a 3D vision system and a large metal claw arm where the head should be. My guess is that they could mount other tools on Spot.
Is Spot a Robot Dog, or the Android of Robotics?
The hope at Boston Dynamics is Spot will be the “Android of Robotics.” To clarify, Boston wants to build a cheap walking robot that will be as a versatile and as popular as Alphabet’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) mobile-operating system.
Moreover, Boston Dynamics wants to be the first company to commercialize a walking robot. The hope is they can mount a wide variety of tools on Spot and use it for a wide variety of purposes. For example, a Spot with a shovel could serve as a miniature walking backhoe.
Obvious uses for Spot include; search and rescue, firefighting, bomb disposal, hazardous waste cleanup, cleaning, mining, logging, farming, exploration, construction, excavation, roofing, gardening, trash removal, recycling, cleaning, janitorial work, surveying, and security patrol. In addition, Spot could move boxes in a warehouse or deliver mail in an office.
One big advantage to Spot is that it can operate in diverse and hazardous environments. Importantly, Spot can operate on rough terrain, and it can survive some nasty jolts. Famous Boston Dynamics videos show employees trying to knock Spot over with sticks.
Ultimately, the goal is to use Spot as a platform upon which to build a wide variety of robots. Only time will tell if there will be a market for Spot.
Boston Dynamics enters Warehouse Market
Moreover, Boston Dynamics is already selling warehouse robots made by its recent acquisition, Kinema Systems.
Kinema claims to offer the world’s first 3D vision solution that uses deep-learning to recognize objects and environments. Consequently, Kinema and Boston Dynamics robots can now supposedly read SKU (stockkeeping unit) numbers on boxes. In addition, Kinema claims its robots can recognize individual pallets of merchandise.
With those capabilities, Boston Dynamics robots could theoretically operate independently in warehouses, stores, and fulfillment centers. In fact, Boston Dynamics website promotes the Handle; a wheeled robot that uses a vacuum grip to pick up boxes.
Current models of the Handle weigh 105 kilograms (231.49 pounds) and can carry up to 15 kilograms (33.07 pounds) in weight. Like Spot, Handle could serve as a platform for other mobile robots.
Boston Dynamics Robots could come to a Store near You
Moreover, Kinema claims it can integrate its 3D vision and Kinema Pick arm with any robot. Thus, Boston Dynamics can easily add the 3D vision and Kinema Pick to Spot.
Hence, Spot could soon stock shelves; or move merchandise, at a store in your neighborhood. There could be a huge market for Spot and Handle in retail. In fact, Walmart (NYSE: WMT) plans to deploy 3,900 robots in its stores, Retail Dive reports.
Additionally, Kroger (NYSE: KR) and Ocado Systems PLC (LON: OCDO) plan to open 20 robotic fulfillment centers across the United States. Kroger’s plans are a huge opportunity for Boston Dynamics because Ocado operates its fulfillment centers with swarms of hundreds of robots.
In particular, Ocado robots pick and pull grocery orders for home delivery. Thus, Kroger and Ocado could soon make some huge orders for Boston Dynamics products.
The first Kroger automated fulfillment center is under construction in Monroe, Ohio, Progressive Grocer reports. In addition, Kroger plans Ocado-operated customer fulfillment centers in Florida and the Mid-Atlantic region, Supermarket News speculates.
How Boston Dynamics Robots Threaten Jobs
In addition to the Handle, Kinema and Boston Dynamics sell the Pick system as a traditional-looking stationary industrial robot.
The stationary Pick is a robot arm that lifts and moves pallets and boxes with a vacuum grip. A Boston Dynamics video shows Pick placing boxes on a conveyor, which means they could easily deploy in the back of a store.
I think Walmart; or Kroger, could use the Pick to unload trucks. Specifically, the Pick could place boxes on a conveyor built that moves merchandise from the truck to the store floor. Once on the floor human workers; the Handle, or Spot, could move the merchandise to the shelves.
The Pick uses 2D and 3D sensors to recognize SKUs. Impressively, Boston Dynamics claims Pick could unload or load a pallet. A press release claims, Pick can move to 720 boxes on hour. Thus Pick threatens lots of retail and warehouse jobs.
What will become of Atlas?
However, Boston Dynamics has announced no plans to commercialize its most famous robot Atlas.
Atlas is the large human-shaped walking robot seen jumping, doing backflips, and smashing concrete blocks in many online videos. Given Boston Dynamics’ history; however, I think a commercial version of Atlas is imminent. Notably, video shows Atlas moving boxes in a stockroom.
Significantly, one Boston Dynamics competitor; Ability Robotics, and Ford (NYSE: F) are marketing a walking and folding delivery robot called Digit. I think Digit looks a lot like Atlas.
Will Walking Robots Make Money at Boston Dynamics?
Boston Dynamics needs to prove walking robots can make money because of its owner. SoftBank Group (OTC: SFTBY) acquired Boston Dynamics from Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL) in 2017.
Unlike Alphabet, SoftBank is not content with years of research and an endless search for military contracts. Thus, Boston Dynamics will need to generate cash flow by selling robots soon.
Additionally, Boston Dynamics could not get military contracts as it planned. My guess is the generals would like to deploy robot soldiers but they fear the backlash from elected politicians. However, I think Boston Dynamics robots are likely to appear on the battlefields of the next war.
In conclusion, I think walking robots will be popular and big moneymakers. Only time will tell if Boston Dynamics will make money from walking robots.