Boston Dynamics’ Spot is a four-legged canine-inspired robot first unveiled on June 23, 2016. With tons of features, customizations, and near-life-like canine body balancing, this is one of the most popular robots on the market.
Marc Raibert founded the company in 1992 while working as a professor at MIT. There, his research on how to make robots move like animals, with agility, dexterity, perception, and intelligence, built the company’s foundation. The company initially worked on 3D naval training videos using their proprietary tool called DI-Guy before moving on to building physical robots for the military. Hyundai Motor Group has owned Boston Dynamics since December 2020. Before that, the company changed hands between Google (2014–2017) and Softbank Group (2017–2020). The company builds several other robots for military, research, and other commercial applications. The Spot is primarily intended for commercial applications.
Spot is an extremely popluar robot weighing around 32.7kg (72.1 lbs). It can carry a sensing equipments (payloads) of upto 14 kg (30.9 lbs) and attain a maximum speed of 5.7 kmph (3.579 miles/hr). Being a small robot with legs, its maneuverability is unmatched by other wheeled robots. It can easily negotiate difficult terrains in autonomous and manually controlled (with an 8 inch tablet and joystick) modes and has a battery life of 90 minutes. Spot also comes with a variety of accessories that can be used in conjunction with the base model to perform a variety of complex tasks, such as Spot Arm and Payloads. The Scout platform can be used to monitor multiple units of Spots to collect and analyze data. Also, additional support services can be availed from their website.
List of important features from Spot specifications
|DIMENSIONS||Length = 1100 mm (43.3 in). |
Width = 500 mm (19.7 in).
Height (sitting) = 191 mm (7.5 in)
Default Height (Walking) = 610 mm (24.0 in)
Max Height = 700 mm (27.6 in)
|WEIGHT||Net Mass/Weight (with battery) = 32.7 kg (72.1 lbs)|
Empty Weight = ~25 kg
|LOCOMOTION||Max Speed = 1.6 m/s|
Max Slope = ±30°
Max Step Height = 300 mm (11.8 in)
|BATTERY||Battery Capacity = 564 Wh|
Average Runtime* = 90 mins
Standby Time = 180 mins
Recharge Time = 60 mins
|CONNECTIVITY||WiFi = 2.4GHz / 5GHz b/g/n|
|ENVIRONMENT||Ingress Protection = IP54|
Operating Temp. = -20°C to 45°C
|TERRAIN SENSING||Horizontal Field of View = 360°|
Range = 4 m (13 ft)
Lighting = > 2 Lux
Collision avoidance = maintains set distance from stationary obstacles
|PAYLOAD MOUNTING||Max Weight = 14 kg (30.9 lbs)|
List of available sensing payloads and other extensions
- Spot Arm: Used as an extension of Spot to grasp, lift, carry, place, and drag a variety of items. Built-in 4K camera and LED illuminator are used to inspect objects before taking decisions.
- Scout: Monitor a fleet of Spots remotely operated using web-based software. It provides real-time visibility and allows the operation of scheduled missions.
- Spot Cam+: Spot CAM+ enables detailed visual inspections using a color ring camera with a 360° field of view and a pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) color camera with 30x optical zoom.
- Spot Cam+IR: It comes mounted with an IR device on top of Spot Cam+ to provide thermal imaging.
- Spot GXP: The General Expansion Payload (GXP) provides several breakout ports from Spot’s main payload port to enable third-party payload integration.
- Spot Core I/O: It’s a communication-cum-computation component and can connect with multiple sensing equipment to collect and process data before sending data over 5G/LTE.
- Spot EAP2: Enhances the range and accuracy of Spot’s autonomy system for use on large sites.
- Rajant Kinetic Mesh Radio Kit: Used to remotely operate a Spot if Wifi is unavailable in the area.
- Persistent Systems Radio Kit: It enables point-to-point communications between Spot and its operator.
- Spot Dock: Spot’s self-charging station transforms the robot into a truly autonomous remote inspection tool.
Boston Dynamics’ Spot comes in 2 variants: Spot Explorer and Spot Enterprise. While the Explorer is the first generation, the newer Enterprise version boasts a powerful CPU to do better calculations. Also, the Enterprise version robots can self-charge on its charging station enabling them to stay on a remote site indefinitely.
Spot Explorer is available at a base price of $74,500 (USD) for companies in the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. Customers in other parts of the world can lease the Spot using an early adopters program provided the country is not under ITAR or Export Control restriction by the United States.
The online monitoring and controlling tool, Scout, works with both Explorer and Enterprise. However, the Spot Arm control doesn’t yet work with Scout. The tool has to work with low bandwidth as many areas where Spot is deployed don’t have high-speed internet. Due to such low bandwidth operations on remote sites, the controlling can be somewhat laggy but does the job well.
Other differences between Spot Explorer and Spot Enterprise are pointed out in the table below.
|Feature area||Spot Explorer||Spot Enterprise|
|Self-charging on Spot Dock||Not available||Includes Spot Dock|
|Autowalk/GraphNav||1 km total mission size limit||2 km and up to 100 actions|
|Automatic diagnostic logging||No option to disable||Option to disable|
|Wi-Fi||2.4Ghz802.11 b/g/n||2.4Ghz and 5Ghz802.11 b/g/n and 802.11ac|
|Payload power||Always on||Toggle state via tablet or API|
|High-speed mission data offload||Not available||Quickly offload mission data through Spot Dock Ethernet connectivity|
|Enhanced safety features||Not available||Safety stop function PLd category 3 per ISO 13849-1 available on payload ports|
Primary users of Boston Dynamics’ Spot
Boston Dynamics has already sold more than 400 Spots and generated around $30 million in revenues. The company already has many big brands under its belt like Brasfield & Gorrie, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Woodside Energy, and Aker BP, to name a few. Spot, when combined with its payloads, can be used for many different applications in remote sites like Thermal inspection, Gauge reading, Radiation detection, Leak detection, Tunnel inspection, etc. Proven use cases exist in telemedicine, searches, and alert. The primary operational sectors of Spot are:
- Manufacturing: For asset management, remote inspections of hazardous sites, or create facility management and create digital twins. Continuous management of assets helps in managing more uptime for operations.
- Construction: For site progress monitoring, BIM model comparison, and detecting worker health and safety issues. Helps in providing 360-degree imaging and videos.
- Power and Utilities: Ensures worker safety on site, Remote monitoring of sites, and conducts autonomous readings.
- Research: Custom development of use cases with partners across various industries.
- Mining: Routine tunnel inspection routes and attach additional payloads to take measurements and ensure safe working conditions.
- Oil and Gas: Enhance process efficiency with actionable data insights, optimized processes, and resiliency. Provides diverse, high-quality data with unprecedented mobility.
- Public Safety: Detects hazardous materials, Investigates suspicious packages, and de-escalates hostage situations.
- Entertainment: Custom program various movements using its Application Programming Interface (API).
Boston Dynamics provides a Software Development Toolkit (SDK) for customers and developers to customize the behavior of the robot for custom scenarios. An example of customization would be making the Spot dance alongside a dance group. This application would need the Spot to be programmed according to the group’s move and is made possible using the SDK. The SDK consists of a Python client, an API for non-Python developers, and relevant documentation all hosted in their GitHub account.
Boston Dynamics’ Spot SDK allows customizations in:
- Custom Teleoperation: Write a custom User Interface (UI) to control and interact with Spot for the tablet interface.
- Building Autonomous Route: This allows a developer to record maps and create their own missions. The same missions can be used to navigate through the planned route.
- Custom Payload: Provides access to mechanical and electrical interfaces to integrate sensors or custom payloads.
- Data Pipeline: Process critical data in real-time and trigger actions using intelligent models created by our AI partners.
The demand for industrial robots is on the rise. Robots help industries optimize operations, improve worker safety, and enhance productivity. According to published research on Statista.com, “The global market for industrial robots is projected to grow steadily between 2018 and 2028. In 2020, the size of the market was estimated at around 55 billion U.S. dollars, with some 2.7 million units of industrial robots in operation worldwide. In 2028, the market size is projected to surpass 165 billion U.S. dollars“. There are already a lot of companies developing similar products like Spot. A few of the closely competing companies are SIASUN, Amazon Robotics, Fetch Robotics, ANYbotics, and Sarcos.
While many companies compete with Boston Dynamics in other sectors, the robotic solution developed by Anybotics is the closest match to Spot’s capabilities. Based out of Europe, Anybotics seems to be following the same growth path as Boston Dynamics.
Boston Dynamics’ Spot is truly an awesome robot with tons of capabilities and applications. Further, the ruggedness and efficiency of the robot make it a very ideal for companies working on hazardous sites, critical infrastructure management, and monitoring. For now, Spot is way ahead of its competition.
Thank you for reading. If you about Boston Dynamics’ Atlas, a humanoid research platform, visit https://techpro.ninja/boston-dynamics-atlas-transforming-robotics/