Boston Dynamics’ Spot gets an SDK and co-starring role in an Adam Savage video

Brian Heater

This next year will be one of the most important since Boston Dynamics was founded back in 1992. After changing hands from Google to SoftBank, the robot maker is getting more aggressive about commercializing products, bringing Spot to market while Handle waits in the wings.

The news includes a new CEO, its first since founding. This week, Boston Dynamics is also making Spot’s SDK available to the public via GitHub. That will go live tomorrow. It’s a pretty big step for the company, and it plans to grow its first commercially available robot into a platform — something it's talked up for a while now.

VP Michael Perry offered up the following comment to TechCrunch:

The SDK enables a broad range of developers and non-traditional roboticists to communicate with the robot and develop custom applications that enable Spot to do useful tasks across a wide range of industries. Developers will still need to become part of the Early Adopter Program to lease the robot to execute their code, but all interested parties will now be able to view the SDK and existing early adopters can open source their own code. With the SDK, developers in the Early Adopter Program can create custom methods of controlling the robot, integrate sensor information into data analysis tools, and design custom payloads which expand the capabilities of the base robot platform.

One of our customers HoloBuilder is using the SDK to integrate Spot into their existing app. With what they’ve developed, workers can use a phone to teach Spot to document a path around a construction site and then Spot will autonomously navigate that path and take 360 images that go right into their processing software. Other customers are exploring VR control, automated registration of laser-scanning, connecting Spot’s data to cloud work order services, using Edge computing to help Spot semantically understand its environment, and much more.

Boston Dynamics has already showcased a number of potential applications for the robot onstage at TechCrunch’s annual Robotics+AI conference. Early uses include security and construction site monitoring. Spot’s ability to walk up and down stairs and open doors makes it uniquely qualified among these sorts of robots. Another video, which featured Spot being used in state police drills, meanwhile, raised some concern with the ACLU.

Of that, now-former CEO Marc Raibert told me, “There is a part of a humanity that loves to worry about robots taking over or being weaponized or something like that. We definitely want to counter that narrative. We're not interested in weaponized robots. We've also gotten positive feedback from the fact that the police were using our robot to look at suspicious packages. There's a real safety issue there and that it generated some additional interest with us as well. I mean, this isn't really anything different than any new technology. There's a wide variety of things it can be used for. We're working to be responsible and trying find the good things that it could be used for.”

The truth is that the nature of Boston Dynamics’ robots have — and probably always will — raise suspicions among an audience trained to be suspicious of large robots like Spot through generations of sci-fi stories. Certainly having it in the field with officers only contributed to such suspicions for many. Also true is that once Spot and the SDK are out in the world, BD will only have so much control over how such products are used in the world.

One well-known early adopter is Adam Savage. The former Mythbuster got his hands on a Spot over the holidays and produced a video wherein he interacts with the robot like a kid on Christmas day. Understandable. I’ve controlled Spot myself, and it’s pretty awesome once you get over the fleeting concern that you’re going to break a machine the size of a large dog that costs as much as a car.

According to his video, Savage will be working with Spot for the next year.