Spot to Sparkles

Spot, the quadrupedal robot from Boston Dynamics, has had lots of jobs, from police officer to astronaut. In fact, it’s hard to think of anyone else with that level of versatility, besides Barbie dolls. But Barbie has, u until now, had one big advantage: fancy, sparkly clothes. So just in case you’ve ever thought that Spot would be perfect for your workplace, if only it were more glamorous, Boston Dynamics has something to show you.

Sparkles, the blue-furred dog on the left, is actually Spot in a special costume designed for International Dance Day. Boston Dynamics has already made wildly popular videos of dancing robots, including Spot as well as Atlas.

Boston Dynamics is very good at making these videos, so here’s one more for you, featuring a chorus line of seven robotic dogs.

But where do you go from there? Clearly, they’ve done plenty with robotics, programming, choreography, and videography. What else was left besides costumes?

Back to Sparkles

We tried to learn the name of the designer of the costume, but without success. However, Plant Services shared this gem: “Ameya Paleja, who covered the introduction of Sparkles for Interesting Engineering, saw the video as a PR move to change public opinion of robotic dogs, which have gained a bad reputation over time. Ameya writes: ‘The nasty image of robotic dogs wielding dangerous weapons is surely damaging Boston Dynamics’ reputation, and the release with Sparkles would only be seen as some damage control at its end if we did not know better. Who in their right minds would look at this Muppet-like dog and attribute anything sinister to it? Ever!’”

Okay, we can believe the ulterior motive. Spot has in fact been seen fitted with lethal weapons, and has scared a lot of people in its law enforcement roles. Even people who use robots on the regular sometimes find Spot creepy.

But the description of the costume as “Muppet-like” seems very apt. Sparkles is cute, and it looks and moves a lot more like a real dog.
Boston Dynamics’ furry costume for Spot, while undeniably cute, is more for entertainment purposes than real-world applications. However, there are some interesting possibilities to consider:

  • Public Perception: The friendly appearance could be used to soften the sometimes intimidating image of robots, especially in situations where robots interact with the public. Imagine a furry Spot approaching people in a park or mall to answer questions or provide directions.
  • Education and Therapy: A furry robot might be less scary for children in educational settings, making them more receptive to learning about robotics. Similarly, the calming presence of a furry robot could be used in therapeutic settings for children with anxiety or autism.
  • Social Interaction: The costume could be a stepping stone towards robots that can better understand and respond to human emotions. Imagine a robot therapist with a friendly face that can adjust its interactions based on a patient’s emotional state.
  • Stealth and Camouflage: While the bright blue fur might not be ideal for hiding, a more natural-colored costume could be useful for robots operating in sensitive environments.

Overall, the furry Spot is more about showcasing the potential for robots to interact with humans in new ways. While it might not be for heavy-duty industrial work, it opens doors for the future of human-robot interaction.