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Inside the World of Boston Dynamics Robots: Unveiling the History and Spectacular Innovations


Article Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. The Decision for Legged Robots
    1. Versatility and Adaptability
    2. Overcoming Challenges
  3. Software: Athletic Intelligence
    1. Assessing the Terrain
    2. Trajectory Planning
  4. Hardware: Hydraulics and 3D Printing
    1. Hydraulic Fluid Integration
    2. 3D Printed Components
  5. Atlas: Pushing Boundaries in R&D
  6. Spot: Commercial Rollout and Customization
    1. Standard Functionality
    2. Customization and Upgrades
    3. Spot as a Platform
  7. Boston Dynamics' Relationship with the US Government
    1. Military Funding and DARPA
    2. Big Dog and Discontinuation
  8. Ownership Changes: Alphabet, Softbank, and Hyundai
    1. Softbank's Limited Commercial Rollout
    2. Hyundai's Manufacturing Capabilities
  9. Fun and Unique Applications of Boston Dynamics Robots
    1. Construction Monitoring
    2. Inspecting Hazardous Sites
    3. Entertainment and Social Engagement
  10. Conclusion
  11. FAQs

Under the Hood of Boston Dynamics Robots: How They're Built


Boston Dynamics robots have captivated the world with their impressive capabilities, from their eye-catching gymnastic feats to lightning-quick machine learning and even their slick dance floor bops. These modern-day technological marvels have sparked debates about their implications for the future. Are they a symbol of leisure for mankind or a foreboding sign of our potential enslavement? Regardless of one's viewpoint, there's no denying that Boston Dynamics robots are undeniably cool from an engineering standpoint. In this article, we'll take a closer look under the hood of these robotic creations and explore how Boston Dynamics builds them.

The Decision for Legged Robots

One of the most striking features of Boston Dynamics' famous creations, such as the dog-like Spot and humanoid Atlas, is that they walk on legs. The decision to pursue legged locomotion was made early on in the company's history. Mark Raibert, the founder and chairman of Boston Dynamics, had a background in academia and recognized the potential of legs over other means of locomotion like wheels or caterpillar tracks. While wheeled robots are suitable for flat surfaces, they struggle with stairs and complex natural environments. Legs, on the other hand, offer unmatched versatility, strength, and style.

Software: Athletic Intelligence

When it comes to robot software, artificial intelligence (AI) often takes center stage. However, Boston Dynamics takes a slightly different approach, focusing on what they call "Athletic Intelligence." Athletic Intelligence refers to the automatic, almost subconscious processing that our brains perform when we move. To achieve this, Boston Dynamics' robots need a way to assess the terrain in front of them.

Atlas, the humanoid robot, relies on clever LIDAR sensors that use light to map the environment. Spot, on the other hand, utilizes conventional cameras and sophisticated 3D sensors. Once the terrain is identified, the robot's brain searches through an internal trajectory library that includes both the robot's prior experience and presets acquired from previous encounters with similar terrain. This information allows the robot to adjust its balance and gait accordingly.

Hardware: Hydraulics and 3D Printing

Boston Dynamics robots perform their remarkable physical feats thanks to a finely calibrated network of internal hydraulics. In earlier versions, hydraulic fluid was pumped through bolt-on tubes. However, the engineers at Boston Dynamics found a more efficient solution by 3D printing robot body parts with embedded hydraulic channels. This approach makes the components lighter, quicker, and more reliable.

For example, a leg will carry hydraulic fluid within its structure, eliminating the need for additional piping parts. This shift in manufacturing has made the process of iteration and improvement cheaper and faster. Boston Dynamics manufactures critical components, such as servo valves, in-house, further enhancing the speed and cost-effectiveness of the development process.

Atlas: Pushing Boundaries in R&D

Although the humanoid Atlas robot is currently limited to research and development (R&D) purposes, it plays a crucial role in pushing the boundaries of robotics. Atlas allows Boston Dynamics to explore new possibilities and create captivating videos. Its development serves as a testament to the company's commitment to innovation and pushing the limits of what robots can achieve.

Spot: Commercial Rollout and Customization

Unlike Atlas, Spot is Boston Dynamics' first robot intended for proper commercial rollout. Its design philosophy differs slightly, aiming to provide a wide range of functionality right out of the box. With 12 custom-built DC motors specifically geared down to provide high torque, Spot can walk, climb stairs, avoid obstacles, navigate challenging terrain, and autonomously follow preset routes without constant user input.

Furthermore, Spot is designed for customization and upgrades. Users can attach a prehensile arm with a primitive hand to one of the payload ports on the robot. Additional adaptations, such as an automatic command to pause working when a person is nearby, can be added upon request. Mark Raibert envisions Spot becoming a platform for other developers and industrial users to leave their mark on, akin to the Android platform for mobile devices.

Boston Dynamics' Relationship with the US Government

Boston Dynamics' journey has seen various ownership changes and collaborations. In the past, the company received funding and oversight from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). While this military backing contributed to the advancement of robotics, it raised concerns among observers who worried about potential consequences, including the idea of a robot uprising.

One of Boston Dynamics' notable projects for the US government was Big Dog, a larger version of Spot intended to serve as a pack mule in war zones. Unfortunately, Big Dog was discontinued in 2015 due to concerns about its noisy gas-powered engine.

Ownership Changes: Alphabet, Softbank, and Hyundai

Over the years, Boston Dynamics changed hands several times. It was previously owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google, but was eventually sold to Japanese investment conglomerate Softbank in 2017. Softbank's ownership brought hopes of full-scale commercial rollouts for Boston Dynamics' robots. While Spot did see limited deployment in select commercial and industrial settings, the vision of widespread adoption was not fully realized.

Currently, Softbank is transferring ownership of Boston Dynamics to the South Korean auto giant Hyundai. Hyundai's manufacturing capabilities raise expectations for the mass production of Boston Dynamics robots and their integration into various industries. However, Boston Dynamics will continue its work in the lab, accumulating patents and pushing the boundaries of robotics.

Fun and Unique Applications of Boston Dynamics Robots

While Boston Dynamics continues its development efforts, their robots have already found diverse and exciting applications. For example, London architecture firm Foster and Partners used Spot for real-time construction monitoring in a high-profile battery power stationary development. Elon Musk's SpaceX employed Spot, named Zeus, to inspect dangerous areas around the launch pad at the Boca Chica Starship test site in Texas.

Spot has also ventured into the entertainment industry, working with Cirque Du Soleil in Singapore to workshop dance routines. It even served as a cheerleader at a Japanese baseball game! Notably, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Spot was seen on the streets, helping pedestrians adhere to social distancing guidelines.


Boston Dynamics robots are a testament to human ingenuity and engineering prowess. Their legged locomotion provides unmatched versatility, and their software, focused on Athletic Intelligence, enables autonomous and adaptive movements. The company's commitment to pushing the boundaries of robotics, coupled with its ability to customize robots like Spot for commercial use, showcases its dedication to innovation.

While the future of robotics and its impact on society is a topic of debate, there is no denying the impressive capabilities and potential of Boston Dynamics' robots. From jaw-dropping gymnastic feats to efficient movement on various terrains, these machines are revolutionizing the field of robotics. So, whether you find them creepy or inspiring, there's no denying that Boston Dynamics' robots are a technological marvel, and their continued development promises even more astonishing advancements in the future.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Are Boston Dynamics robots available for purchase? Boston Dynamics' humanoid robot Atlas is currently limited to research and development purposes. However, Spot, their commercial robot, is available for purchase and deployment in select commercial and industrial settings.

2. Can Spot be customized for specific tasks? Yes, Spot is designed to be customizable. It can be equipped with attachments such as a prehensile arm with a primitive hand. Additionally, specific adaptations can be made upon request to suit various applications.

3. How much does Spot cost? Spot comes with a price tag of approximately $74,000. However, pricing may vary depending on customization options and specific requirements.

4. What are some unique applications of Boston Dynamics robots? Boston Dynamics robots have been used for construction monitoring, inspection tasks in hazardous areas, entertainment performances, and even assisting with social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

5. Who owns Boston Dynamics? As of now, Boston Dynamics is owned by the South Korean auto giant Hyundai. The company has previously been owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google, and Japanese investment conglomerate Softbank.

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