In what could easily be a clip from an upcoming “Terminator” movie, a video released this week shows a four-legged robot opening a closed door and allowing its less abled companion to march in.
Engineering and robotics design company Boston Dynamics captioned its short YouTube video “Hey Buddy, Can You Give Me a Hand?” And its left plenty of people on social media picking their jaws up off the floor.
A Boston Dynamics robot called SpotMini opens a door for a fellow robot.
It takes about 18 seconds for the robot to extend its claw, turn the handle, hold the door for its compatriot and secure their entry to another room ― all the while displaying remarkable grace, precision and strength.
Though the door-opening feat may seem minuscule to some, it comes just three months after a Wall Street Journal article depicted robots ― at least ones in a government-sponsored contest ― as lacking the hand-eye coordination to master such a feat.
That article’s headline: “How to Survive a Robot Apocalypse: Just Close the Door.”
The Boston Dynamics robot’s demonstrated ability to breeze through such obstacles has left plenty of people concerned about mankind’s future ― or lack thereof.
Videos have previously shown that the Massachusetts-based company’s growing fleet of robots can walk and jump on two legs like humans, leap onto and off of buildings, run a little more than 28 mph ― faster than world champion sprinter Usain Bolt ― lift and move heavy objects and do backflips.
Since Boston Dynamics’ founding in 1992, the company has worked to build machines “that both break boundaries and work in the real world,” according to its website.
The company has received funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, specifically its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), as well as the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force. Such funds went toward the creation of the RHex ― a small, six-legged robot that can maneuver across rough terrain ― and the SandFlea ― a four-wheeled robot that can jump 33 feet into the air and land unscathed.
The company was acquired by Google X, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., in 2013. Though Google X reportedly said it would honor Boston Dynamics’ existing military contracts, it planned to phase out the reliance on such funding and instead focus on manufacturing and industry automation, according to a New York Times article that same year.
In 2016, however, Boston Dynamics was up for sale again. One reason given was that Google X decided that humanoid robotics didn’t fit with its goals and public image.
“There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about [Boston Dynamics’ work on robots] being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” Courtney Hohne, a Google X spokeswoman, said at the time.
In mid-2017, Japanese tech giant SoftBank announced an agreement to purchase Boston Dynamics. But, as The Financial Times reported last fall, the deal has been stalled by national security regulators.
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said at the time of the agreed-upon purchase that “there are many issues we still cannot solve by ourselves with human capabilities.”
“Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the Information Revolution,” he said in a statement in which he praised Boston Dynamics and its staff as “the clear technology leaders in advanced dynamic robots.”
He said SoftBank looked forward “to supporting them as they continue to advance the field of robotics and explore applications that can help make life easier, safer and more fulfilling.”
Earlier in 2017, Son made it known that he believes machine intelligence will surpass that of humans by 2047.
“It will be so much more capable than us — what will be our job? What will be our life? We have to ask philosophical questions. Is it good or bad?” he said at a conference in Barcelona. “I think this superintelligence is going to be our partner. If we misuse it, it’s a risk. If we use it in good spirits it will be our partner for a better life. So the future can be better predicted, people will live healthier, and so on.”
Meanwhile, exactly what Boston Dynamics thinks about the public’s concern over a robot uprising isn’t clear. The company didn’t immediately return a request for comment from HuffPost on the subject on Tuesday.
One thing’s for sure, there are plenty of worried people out there.
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