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Boston Dynamics' dog-like robot can now recharge on its own and gains popularity in Covid era

Key Points
  • Spot, a $74,5000 robot from a company that was formerly part of Google, has been used in social distancing efforts in public spaces during Covid-19.
  • A new version will allow Spot to recharge on its own, and give the machine an arm for opening doors and flipping power switches.
  • Boston Dynamics was sold by Alphabet to Softbank in 2017.
Boston Dynamics CEO on new robotic applications to assist during the pandemic

Boston Dynamics, the robotics firm once owned by Alphabet's Google and now part of Japan's tech heavyweight investor Softbank, just gave its dog-like robot Spot an upgrade.

Spot now features a recharging station that the robot can use to power up on its own, which Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter told CNBC's Squawk Box on Wednesday allows the robot to cover a much broader range, and be located in more remote locations. 

Spot also now has access to an arm that allows the robot to perform tasks such as opening doors or drawers, adjusting valves and flipping a power switch.

At a base price for the Spot Explorer of $74,500, the new enterprise version with these features will go higher, but Playter says the company has not yet set pricing for the upgraded robot, which will be available in early 2021. 

The robot — which can carry a maximum weight of 14 kilograms, or 30.9 pounds — was launched roughly a year ago in September 2019 and found one of its most high-profile uses in the coronavirus outbreak. It was put into use in Singapore to encourage social distancing in public spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the time, the company stressed that Spot was encouraging, not enforcing, social distancing.

"The robot isn't really enforcing in Singapore," Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert told CNBC's "Squawk Box" last May. "It's just giving people information and encouraging them," he said. "There's a human nearby who can do whatever enforcement they decide is appropriate." 

Spot also was used at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston to take some vitals as part of screening patients for Covid-19. 

In all, there are nearly 300 Spots out in the world today. 

This week, Boston Dynamics announced a deal with Trimble, a major construction industry player.

As construction sites are trying to better control how densely workers are concentrated, Boston Dynamics' CEO Playter said that Spot can be used for surveying and data collection, while helping reduce the number of workers on site. Spot will be integrated with Trimble's data collection sensors and field control software to automate repetitive tasks such as site scans, surveying and progress monitoring in potentially unsafe environments.

Use of robots to collect data and perform hazardous task have been among the primary instances of robots in the field to date, and some companies that have already used Spot include BP, Ford, and Merck.

Boston Dynamics robot encourages social distancing in Singapore park