Boston Dynamics promises its impressive Spot robot can do a lot of things, but as we can see in the company’s latest demo, replacing the family pet isn’t one of them. Even with incredible autonomy, advanced sensors, and an articulated arm instead of a head and neck, Spot manages to make a fun interaction like a simple game of fetch look like an arduous chore.
In the company’s defense, at no point has Boston Dynamics ever positioned Spot as a replacement for Rover or Old Yeller, despite the fact that the four-legged robot looks roughly the same size as a German Shepherd and other large dog breeds. In its initial rollout, Spot was only made available to a select number of companies who proposed unique industrial tasks for the robots, and to the best of our knowledge, none of those involved fetching the morning paper or protecting junk yards. As adorable as it may look, Spot is first and foremost a utilitarian robot.
That doesn’t mean Spot is all work and no play. One of the robot’s most useful features is its ability to learn custom tasks and skills using image recognition powered by machine learning. In a factory setting, for example, it can be easily taught to navigate a space and find gauges or other displays and autonomously snap images for remote monitoring. But in a new tutorial available on the Boston Dynamics developer website, the company shares how Spot can also be trained to play fetch, just like a real puppers.
There’s some custom programming involved, which Boston Dynamics has provided, but the most time-consuming part, possibly even more time-consuming than teaching a real dog to play fetch, is building up a database of images captured by Spot’s camera to be used to train a machine-learning model. They all have to be manually labeled so Spot knows the desired behavior, like picking up an object only when it’s landed on the ground, not while it’s soaring through the air.
The result is definitely a game of fetch, but maybe more akin to one played with a senior dog. It’s interesting to see the pup putting in the effort and succeeding, but not exactly a fun activity for all involved. You’re better off saving your $74,500 (plus the additional cost of that articulated arm accessory) and buying a real dog, or hiring someone on TaskRabbit to fetch a stick for you.