As many people adopt or foster dogs and cats while staying home during the Covid-19 pandemic, there's a different kind of "pet" that can help businesses: Spot, a robot dog created by engineering company Boston Dynamics.
Spot is not a house pet or a toy for entertainment, it's a four-legged robot that can walk up to three miles per hour, climb terrain, avoid obstacles, see 360-degrees and perform a number of programmed tasks. Now, Spot is available to purchase from Boston Dynamics for $74,500.
Spot debuted in 2015, but was only made commercially available last week on Tuesday. With its canine appearance and human-like movements, Spot has experienced its fair share of internet fame. Videos of Spot dancing, opening doors and even pulling a truck have gone viral on the Boston Dynamics YouTube channel.
Michael Perry, VP of business development at Boston Dynamics, says Spot has "seemingly limitless" applications for businesses. The robot can be operated remotely, or it can learn custom routes and actions so that it can perform autonomous missions, he tells CNBC Make It.
In an early adopter test program, people at businesses and research facilities employed 150 Spot robots to do things such as "document construction progress, monitor remote or hazardous environments, and provide situational awareness," Perry says. "Spot robots were used in a variety of environments, including power generation facilities, decommissioned nuclear sites, factory floors, construction sites and research laboratories."
Increased safety and productivity are two major benefits of using Spot.
Spot can go places that would be unsafe for humans. For example, early adopter testers used Spot to monitor remote environments inside of mines and off-shore oil rigs, and capture footage through the camera "in places like decommissioned nuclear sites where it's too dangerous to send people," Perry says. The robot can even perform on stage at theme parks, he adds.
Spot has even been able to lend a hand during the pandemic. At Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Par, a theme park in Singapore, Spot patrolled the grounds last month and encouraged people to maintain social distance.
A robot can also work longer hours than a human. For instance, Pomerleau, a Quebec-based construction company, used Spot to document progress on a 500,000 square-foot building. Spot took thousands of photos of the site each week, saving the company 20 hours of work per week.
As for the cost, Spot is certainly an investment. To put the price in perspective, Softbank's Pepper robot, which launched in 2015, costs around $1,600. But other "tracked inspection robots" with similar capabilities as Spot can cost $250,000, Perry says.
"The commercial customers for Spot have seen its benefits reducing risk, increasing frequency and quality of data capture, and leveraging companies' existing talent for more complex tasks to generate value far beyond the cost of the robot," Perry says.
"The pricing for Spot balances the tremendous benefits of mobile robots with an accessible entry point for developers and researchers to explore future applications," he adds.
Owning Spot is just one part of the equation; users need to know how to develop software to run and customize Spot for specific tasks.
"We designed Spot to be easy to use," Perry says. "Early adopters customized how they deployed Spot by leveraging the robot's mounting rails, payload ports and software development kit to expand the capabilities of the base robot platform."
"Many had never worked with a mobile robot prior to working with Spot, but were able to use common web app programming to enable their applications," he says.
The thought of businesses employing autonomous robots may give some people pause. But under Boston Dynamics' terms and conditions of sale, companies must agree to "the beneficial use of its robots."
To buy Spot, you have to put down a $1,000 deposit, and the robot is delivered between six and eight weeks, according to Boston Dynamics.