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06/12/2017 / By Jayson Veley
Those who routinely have nightmares about robots taking over the world may want to move on to a different article. But for those who don’t mind the idea of Japan potentially creating an entire army of terrifying robot animals, keep reading.
Last week, the Japanese firm Softbank agreed to purchase two companies from Google’s Alphabet – Boston Dynamics, which is known for making a series of fearsome animal-like robots, and Schaft, known for their work with humanoid artificial intelligence. Given the fact that many of Boston Dynamic’s previous designs were nightmarish and flat out bizarre, many people are left wondering where Japan will take the company next, and what types of new robots will be created in the coming years. (RELATED: AI mind reading technology can tell if you’ve knowingly committed a crime.)
The deal is part of a larger plan that will allow Japan to further develop their robotics technology. Masayoshi Son, the chief executive of Softbank, explained that robots are going to play an essential role in solving problems that humans can’t solve on their own. “Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the Information Revolution,” he said. “I am thrilled to welcome them to the Softbank family and look forward to supporting them as they continue to advance the field of robotics and explore applications that can help make life easier, safer and more fulfilling,” the Softbank chief executive said of Boston Dynamics.
For Marc Raibert, CEO of Boston Dynamics, the feeling is mutual. He explained how he is looking forward to working with Softbank to create “a smarter and more connected world,” adding, “We share Softbank’s belief that advances in technology should be for the benefit of humanity.”
But just because Softbank will be taking Boston Dynamics into the future doesn’t mean we should forget about all of the incredible accomplishments that the robotics company has already added to its resume. Although Boston Dynamics has had trouble finding a market for their products, it’s not farfetched to say that most of their designs look as though they came to earth from another world.
First, there’s “Handle,” a robot that stands two meters tall and is equipped with both wheels and legs, allowing the machine to go virtually anywhere. Handle also has the ability to jump into the air in a way similar to a roller skater clearing an obstacle, and can also lift heavy loads with ease.
There’s “Atlas,” which Boston Dynamics describes as “the world’s most dynamic humanoid.” Much of Atlas was created via a 3D printer, giving the robot a high strength-to-weight ratio. It is also equipped with stereo vision, range sensing, and other sensors that allow it to get around obstacles and travel over rough terrain.
Spot is a four-legged robot that was designed for both indoor and outdoor use. According to the official website of Boston Dynamics, Spot “senses its rough-terrain environment using LIDAR and stereo vision in conjunction with a suite of on-board sensors to maintain balance and negotiate rough terrain.” Spot also has the ability to operate for 45 minutes on a single battery charge.
Most of the other robots that are featured on the website look eerily similar to animals that you would typically find at the zoo. The Wildcat, for instance, looks just like a leopard and behaves like one too. The LS3, with its bulky frame and large legs, looks similar to rhinoceros, and despite its name, the Big Dog looks and acts just like a wildebeest.
While it’s not clear what Softbank will do with the robotics companies they have just purchased, what we do know is that they already have an incredible technological foundation to build upon for years to come.