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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Boston Dynamics’ Robots Won’t Take Our Jobs … Yet

It’s impossible to talk about Boston Dynamics robots without acknowledging two things: They’re a marvel of modern engineering, and their agility can be incredibly unnerving. A 46-second video of Spot the robot “dog” opening a door has more than 56 million views on YouTube. Atlas, the company’s headless humanoid robot, can go for a jog or do parkour. And just last week, the company released new footage of Spot the robot recharging on its own. (If it sounds like a Black Mirror episode, well, that’s because it sort of is.)

But even as many observers joke about a robot apocalypse—or the perhaps more realistic possibility that robots will simply take humans’ jobs—Boston Dynamics insists these machines still have a long way to go. That’s one of the things Marc Raibert, the founder and chairman of Boston Dynamics, focused on in his conversation with WIRED’s Matt Simon on this week’s Get WIRED podcast.

“There’s a lot of mobility, dexterity, real-time perception of the world around us. [The robots] are good. They're getting better all the time. But there's a lot more we need to do,” Raibert says. That includes redesigning the environments around the robots, like warehouses, to create different lanes for humans and robots so they can work together; as he puts it, “to make the robot do all the things that are in a problem, but also adjust the problem to make it more doable.” Boston Dynamics has also been designing different attachments for its robots, like the new manipulator arm it’s now selling for Spot the robot. “Having manipulators that have a mobile base like Spot under them is really a game changer,” Raibert says.

And when it comes to robots taking our jobs, Boston Dynamics tends to position these machines as a form of augmentation to human labor, capable of helping us out with tasks that may be too dangerous for humans alone to attempt. It’s a rosy view of the human-robot relationship, but there are at least a few proofs of concept for it already: Raibert reveals in the podcast that Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been using Spot robots in the lead-up to rocket launches. “The cool thing, of course, about robots is that they can do this in places where people can’t go.”

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