It’s a headless, silent, four-legged robot, and it’s the scariest sight any intruder could possibly face around your home.
It’s the SpotMini, a new robot dog from Boston Dynamics–a company which until now has been a largely theoretical robotics designer–and it is about to go on sale to the public. Beginning in 2019, 100 robot dogs will be commercially available for an undisclosed price–and an uncertain purpose.
The Mini part of its name derives from the fact that’s it’s a trimmed-down version of a robot dog designed for and ultimately rejected by the U.S. military, but it still packs a punch. It has visual sensors and sturdy legs that allow it to navigate over any terrain, and a robot arm protruding from its head so it can open doors and grab objects.
If it’s supposed to be a super toy or some sort of family pet, we’re not buying it–literally, this thing is going to cost thousands. Instead, we’d like to see it given video conferencing abilities and pressed into service as a two-way robot security camera.
The SpotMini Goes Commercial
Even by robot standards, the SpotMini is intimidating. The problem, as we’ve seen in the telepresence robots that currently represent the high-water mark of mobile video conferencing, is that it has no face, no personality.
Take a look at this thing in action before you consider unleashing it on the family as a super-pet:
That’s the way Boston Dynamic seems to like it, however, although they’re no experts at commercial salesmanship. The company spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology more than 25 years ago, and despite partnering with several companies has yet to take any of its robots to market.
So, what exactly are they hoping consumers will want to do with a 66-pound, headless dog that can roam autonomously for 90 minutes before running out of battery power? We at VC Daily are biased toward all things video conferencing–except the ridiculously low-tech “Human Uber”–so we’d like to see a digital screen strapped to the SpotMini to make it the scariest two-way home security system ever built.
A Two-Way Mobile Robot Security Camera
The obvious civilian use for the SpotMini is to blend its canine and robot elements into the perfect guard dog. It’s already using high-grade visuals to navigate its way around different kinds of terrain, so it should be aware of any subtle movements around the interior or exterior of the home. The next phase would be to send that signal back to a domestic device where it can be viewed by the homeowner. Its mobility means it can cover the same ground as several static security cameras, and its inquisitive head means it can inspect potential hiding spots to seek out the source of noise or movement.
Adding a two-way video link would complete its guard dog potential. You’d need to add a digital camera somewhere on its body, so you could view those it encounters, but adding a screen to turn it into a mobile video conference would allow users to safely confront anyone they encounter, friend or foe.
A robot security dog could also do more than show you intruders. Seeing as the SpotMini can both open doors and apparently defend itself, it could act as a video call personal greeter for any friends, delivery people, or repairmen who visit the house while you’re away–like a slightly frightening version of the video calling doorbell we’ve previously discussed. In fact, if you stretch your imagination a little, there are plenty of other potential applications for a four-legged, autonomous mobile video link.
Mobile, Hands-Free Video Calling
Much of the menace of the SpotMini comes from the fact that it’s headless. It robs the creature of any real character and leaves it as more robot than retriever. Make the thing a little more approachable, with big puppy eyes and maybe some ears, and you could press it into service as a lovable communications conduit around the house and beyond.
A Video Link for the Elderly: Animals have long been valued for their therapeutic benefits, and it’s common for them to star as cuddly guests in retirement homes. Fix a camera to its head and a screen around its neck, and the SpotMini could become the world’s friendliest way to Skype with the grandparents. With voice-activated commands, it would even take the hassle out of operating a webcam, and there are proven benefits to giving the elderly easy access to video calls.
Hands-Free Video Calls: In fact, why not employ the SpotMini as a mobile video link in anyone’s home? Along with being a great conversation starter at parties, the mechanical animal could follow you around the house while you make a last minute, hands-free video call during a hectic morning.
A Talking Retriever: There’s room all over this dog to add some extra features, including a basic storage device. You could send it down the road with an open video call in operation and use it to pick up some milk from the corner store–and it can defend itself, remember, so no one is going to steal your cash.
The Family Defender: Those defensive capabilities make the SpotMini the perfect escort for young members of the family who need to navigate the streets. It could accompany the kids on their way to school or the bus stop while you chat with them over the video link, and then bring them home again as you catch up on the day’s events.
There are any number of uses for a mobile video link with the strength of a military drone and here at VC Daily we’d be happy to buy one with video conferencing capabilities–just as soon as someone puts a head on it.