The engineering company Boston Dynamics specializes in robotics. Since its opening in 1992, they have produced a huge number of robots. However, in the early days, these were fairly primitive machines.
The goal of the company was to create robots that could move in impassable terrain. Have they succeeded in this, and what are they capable of today? Let's dive into the history of one of the most outstanding corporations in the world of robotics.
The Beginning of the Journey
The founder of the company is Marc Raibert, born in 1949. By 1977, he had already earned a bachelor's degree and defended his doctorate at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His career path was then related to work in the field of robotics - at NASA and the California Institute of Technology. In 1979, Marc was already awarded a grant from Ivan Sutherland, an American scientist who developed a jumping mechanism, and in 1980, from DARPA (US Department of Defense).
For about ten years before the early 90s, Raibert headed his own laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even now, on their website, you can find a page from those years. The first breakthrough in robotics was a jumping mechanism that maintained balance. It was born in 1983 and was named the 3D One-Leg Hopper. Marc positioned his invention from the point of view that it is easier to maintain balance on one leg than to try to coordinate the movements of both.
Marc's works could even be seen in the movies. He helped implement a whole series of robots for the film "Rising Sun." This more creative work pushed the engineer to create his own company to produce robots that look like humans and animals. Thus, Boston Dynamics was born in 1992 on the basis of MIT. In 1995, it became a separate company.
The main concept of BD's animal robots was to form normal limbs that would be more functional and versatile. This significantly distinguished them from other projects that replaced the limbs of quadrupeds with tracks and wheels.
The first robot created by Boston Dynamics was "BigDog". This four-legged robot could move across different terrains, including mountains, puddles, and snow while maintaining balance, moving at speeds up to 6.4 km/h, and carrying up to 150 kg of equipment and supplies. "BigDog" was developed in 2005 and was later used by the US military to transport cargo on the battlefield. This project brought the company to fame but was discontinued in 2015 due to the engine's high noise level.
"Cheetah" became the second robot created by Boston Dynamics. This robot was designed to run at a maximum speed of 45 km/h. It became the world's first four-legged robot to achieve such speed. Its only significant drawback was the inability to work autonomously. Therefore, an autonomous "WildCat" with a fuel engine was introduced in 2013, but its maximum speed was only 26 km/h.
Acquisition by Google and Further Development
Google purchased some robotics startups and Boston Dynamics in 2013 for $500 million. Over the four years that Robert's company was under Google's umbrella, some critical robots were produced, including Spot and Atlas. "Atlas" was designed to perform various tasks, including sorting and selling goods in warehouses. It was also used to create other robots. The robot's design was also something new - two legs, one and a half meters tall, weighing 75 kg, and several stereo cameras. It could climb, do tricks, jump over obstacles, and carry a load of up to 11 kg. It was designated to a new type of robots - Robo Sapiens.
Growing Popularity and Future
The company released numerous videos that are gaining enormous popularity. In 2018, a video was uploaded showing Spot simply opening a door. It gained 152 million views. And in 2020, a video of Spot, Atlas, and other robots dancing was watched 38 million times.
Today, Boston Dynamics robots perform tasks that are dangerous to human health and life, lift heavy loads, and are not afraid of water or fire. They are capable of measuring a person's body temperature, pulse, and saturation, making it easier for doctors to work and safer during the pandemic. Robots were actively used in Boston hospitals. With their help, doctors were even able to connect with patients through video communication.
Marc Raibert reports that in the future, his robots will not only be useful for production and medical purposes but will also be able to perform functions around the home, helping disabled and elderly individuals to serve society's benefit.