On sale since three years ago, Spot spread like wildfire to become a team member for industrial operations around the world. As per Boston's own account, at the time of writing there are already some 1,000 of them patrolling facilities in 35 countries of this world.
No matter the fears this thing brings to light in some of us, it remains a machine, and like most machines it's subject to upgrades to remain relevant in its segment. And that's exactly what Boston Dynamics announced earlier this week: serious upgrades meant to make Spot more efficient at performing "critical industrial tasks like thermal monitoring, acoustic leak detection, and gauge reading." And the improvements come as both software and hardware.
On the software side of things, the biggest change is the inclusion of multiple and simultaneous inspection types, built right into the robot.
When it comes to thermal inspection, more regions of interest can now be captured by the four-legged creature in a single photo, and that allows operators to compare temperature readings easier.
On the hardware front, Boston made a few tweaks to the audio and visual signaling system, to help the robot make its presence and intention known to the humans around it. These safety features come as lights, a buzzer, and a speaker.
The alert system is color coded, and can be programmed to display various colors and patterns depending on what Spot is doing in a certain area. When everything is nominal, it will show green blinking lights, when it's in inspection mode white lights will flash, and when some more demanding and potentially hazardous mission is performed, blinking amber lights will be displayed.
In case something goes wrong and the robot needs to be stopped asap, an emergency stop button is now included on the machine. When used, the robot's light turns red, and like any other good dog, Spot sits down. The button is located in an easy-to-reach region, on the back of the robot, and it's used as a backup to the existing emergency stop function that is already available on the controlling tablet.
No matter the situation Spot finds itself in, the visual cues can be enhanced by audio ones thanks to the buzzer. The company says this should prove particularly useful when the creature crosses an intersection, or gets ready to go down some stairs (yes, it can do that).
Spot can now see moving objects thanks to an upgraded lidar. When it senses something crossing its path, it will signal and stay clear of said object.
Perhaps the most important upgrades the robot received involves its ability to autonomously manipulate objects. That's something the existing Spot does only with the help of an operator moving the robot's arm. The upgraded one can do things like open doors on its own, "even in a completely empty facility," with no need for direct control from a human (but still, acting on a programmed task). Boston warns though this ability is a beta feature for now.
Boston Dynamics does not say when the upgraded Spot becomes available, or if already deployed ones can be subject to the enhancements. The price for the new version is also not known, but for reference we'll remind you that back in 2020 when it launched, the robot had a sticker reading $75,000.
Impressive (and scary, to some) as it is, Spot is for now a tool that can only do things humans tell it to do, either directly or through pre-programmed instructions. The thing does not have a mind of its own yet, but who knows what the future will bring.
After all, it was not all that long ago when the same Levatas we mentioned earlier managed to upload the ChatGPT AI into the brain of the robot dog...