Canines beware: Apparently we humans aren’t the only ones who need to worry about our inevitable robot overlords replacing us.
This week, New Zealand software firm Rocos announced a partnership with Boston Dynamics to give the latter’s famous robotic dog/four-legged nightmare automaton a new gig: herding sheep.
Rocos specializes in developing software for remote robot operation and said its cloud platform will enable Spot—a line of robots nimble enough to traverse rough terrain while strong enough to pull a truck like a dog sled (or, occasionally, Adam Savage)—to offset strain from worker shortages caused by the coronavirus outbreak and help make food production in the country more efficient.
“Equipped with payloads like heat, LIDAR, gas and high resolution camera sensors, Spot navigates rugged environments to capture data in real time,” the company said in a recent blog post. “In agriculture, farmers can access information such as more accurate and up-to-date yield estimates. This provides access to a new category of automation, and a safer, more efficient business.”
In accompanying footage, which you can check out below, Spot trots about grassy hilltops and shepherds a flock of sheep with nary a human or pup in sight—the very picture of some cyperpunk pastoral fantasy.
(Weirdly, at one point in the video Spot appears to be lounging on the ground, moving its robotic limbs around in a sunny patch as if stretching its tired muscles after a hard day’s work. Or maybe I’m just projecting. In all likeliness, it probably just fell over, and Rocos wanted to demonstrate that a stumble can’t stop this all-terrain robomutt.)
As fun as the video is as a proof of concept, Rocos and Boston Dynamics seem geared toward supplementing rather than fully supplanting traditional sheepdogs. Though Spot’s not without its unique advantages: during early testing, Rocos said the Boston Dynamics team was able to navigate previously uncharted terrain in New Zealand all from the comfort of their U.S. office. It’s the latest example of how agritech’s already growing influence has been fastracked amid strain from the nearly unparalleled covid-19 crisis.
“The age of autonomous robots is upon us,” said Rocos CEO David Inggs in the company’s blog post. “Our customers are augmenting their human workforces to automate physical processes that are often dull, dirty, or dangerous.”
Boston Dynamics has similarly been branching out into telemedicine in recent months because of the outbreak, deploying Spot in local hospitals to see if it can play a part in decreasing health workers’ risk of exposure. Their robodog was made available for purchase last year in case you’ve got a few thousand dollars to burn and a flock of sheep that needs a herdin’.