Boston Dynamics' Robot Dog 'SpotMini' Is Friendly and Weirdly Creepy

Monday, 13 November 2017 - 7:02PM
Technology
Robotics
Monday, 13 November 2017 - 7:02PM
Boston Dynamics' Robot Dog 'SpotMini' Is Friendly and Weirdly Creepy
Boston Dynamics
Boston Dynamics has been working on adorable nightmare fuel for quite some time now. Somehow effortlessly straddling the line between looking adorable and simultaneously disturbing, comes the new SpotMini, an improvement on an earlier design that Boston Dynamics had created which bore the same name. 

This new SpotMini looks a lot more sleek than other droids from Boston Dynamics. It's pretty clear from the colorful plastic yellow coating that the company is trying to make this SpotMini feel less like a mad science experiment, and more like a dog that's also a iPhone.

See it in action below:



With some of the company's creations, it's hard not to instantly fall in love with - and feel painfully sorry for - adorable little robots that are constantly getting knocked over and bullied by their creators. These sweet little things surely don't deserve such treatment, even if it is in the interest of making future robots better at balancing.

On the other hand, though, sometimes Boston Dynamics releases footage of some kind of mutant headless metal reindeer that leaves people with a good impression of what it might be like to get murdered by a foot soldier during the inevitable robot uprising. Sure, these things are pretty smart in that they can navigate on four legs better than most humans can on two - that doesn't matter if they also look like Elon Musk's personal idea of Hell.

How much this newest machine works is debatable, and again it seems to come down primarily to the lack of a head. SpotMini moves so much like a real dog that it tricks the mind, and when we see one of these things prancing about, we're inevitably (and quite understandably) a bit freaked out.

It's kind of fun that, in their efforts to make SpotMini look less offensive and terrifying, Boston Dynamics has wrapped their robot pet up in plastic casing, seemingly unable to realize that the real problem here isn't the robot's casing, but rather the fact that the metal creature moves so much like a living thing that it feels a little like a horror movie monster.

That said, this robot is strangely adorable at the same time. For all that its jolly little strut makes it seem off-putting and weird, there's an eager playfulness in its motions that means humans - particularly dog lovers - can't help but start treating it like a real dog.



It's a similar issue to that of Sophia the Robot, who recently gained Saudi citizenship. The mind may be grossed out by her slow, jerky facial expressions, but at the same time, the care that's gone into making her appeal human means that it's hard not to think of her as a person. But, then, Sophia also benefits from looking eerily similar to Alicia Vikander's character Ava in Ex Machina.

Perhaps if we get a good robot dog movie in the near future (not to be confused with the upcoming Tom Hanks film about a robot and a dog as separate entities), audiences will stop seeing SpotMini as a creepy metal abomination, and will embrace its cute little non-face.

After all, the reason why Boston Dynamics hasn't clearly identified the problem in their creepy robots' movements, is because when you're around these bots all day, every day, you become desensitized to their shuddering, inorganic movements.

Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert recently said that he expects robots to one day be more influential to human lives than the internet currently is. The first step in that journey, as with the early days of the internet, is to make this emerging, slightly scary technology feel more user friendly and simple. This may take more than just some yellow plastic, but it looks like the company is hard at work making a robot that can play fetch, and that'll be the first step.
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