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The coronavirus ‘dog-tor’ will locomote towards you now7 min read

April 5, 2021 5 min read

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The coronavirus ‘dog-tor’ will locomote towards you now7 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Dog Reaction GIF by Best Friends Animal Society
Image: GIPHY

Take a moment to let your mind head to the most dreaded of places – the hospital. Unfortunately, you have an easily transmittable disease, and it is not safe for your family and your doctors to come and see you. They could interact with you using an iPad or digital tablet, but that certainly isn’t enough for a doctor to diagnose you. Enter Spot: the vigilant robot dog that can perform the surprising task of making your hospital visit more humane.

Who is Spot?

Before we talk about what Spot’s been doing in hospitals, let us get to know this cute yellow dog a little better. Spot, the robotic dog, is an intelligent robot that can navigate the toughest of terrains. The lifelike creature weighs about 30 kilograms, and was launched last year by the Massachusetts-based company Boston Dynamics.

How Boston Dynamics Is Redefining Robot Agility - IEEE Spectrum
Spot, the robot has rather life-like movements. Image: IEEE Spectrum

The company specialises in making robots with better or rather eerily lifelike movement. Take a look at this video to view Spot’s mind-boggling capabilities.

Incredible! wasn’t it? So, essentially Spot is a super-efficient four-legged vehicle. The robot is not exactly a product of artificial intelligence but rather years of research and a lot of hard work. Spot is not a traditionally intelligent robot. Spot can’t hatch a plan or make difficult decisions. However, it can determine exactly how it should move its eerie dog-like legs. Five sets of cameras and a gyroscope help Spot balance, never miss its mark and never fall. When Spot falls, it just lifts itself back up when it falls, unassisted.

Boston Dynamics' latest Spot robot can recharge itself
Spot can go and recharge its own battery if it is programmed to do so.

How does Spot do all that?

Spot builds a 3D model of the world around it as it moves around, and then its computers determine how it should move, much like the characters of a video game. The computers then send signals to the motors instructing them on how they should rotate and power Spots legs. It knows how to behave in gravel, jagged rocks and essentially just about any kind of solid ground.

Boston Dynamics' Spot Robot Dog Goes on Sale - IEEE Spectrum
Some of Spot’s essential features. Image: IEEE Spectrum

Operating Spot

Ford is using Boston Dynamics robots to survey its plant in Michigan
The controller for operating spot is very simple to understand and use. It’s rather similar to the controllers of common video games. Image: The Next Web

You can operate Spot in two ways. The first method can be followed by just about anyone. You simply grab a controller and tell Spot where to go. Is an obstacle in the way? NO problem. Spot will find it, and either dodge it, climb over it, or even duck beneath it, and continue on its path. The human controller is barely even required. Another method allows Sot to work unsupervised. You simply enter a program into Spot’s computer telling it where to go, and Spot will repeatedly follow the same path. Well, that is until its battery runs out.

What do you do with something like Spot?

The robot can reach places where humans cannot. It can even reduce the hazard of many jobs by replacing the workers who would have to put themselves at risk to do them. Think of it as a Mars rover but for our planet. In the same way that we send rovers to Mars as the journey is treacherous for humans, Spot can reduce our risk by taking over. For instance, if someone has to check on some high voltage wiring that could toast them to crisp on the occasion that something is wrong, Spot can do the job just fine and lives will be saved. It can gather data from wherever it goes and recognise any error or fault in large factories or warehouses and instantly inform those in charge.

You could spot in to inspect crime scenes and even enter rooms with toxic gasses. There are probably millions of ways to use Spot. So far 400 Spots have been sold to factories and large companies, but the potential to use Spot is largely untapped. One new use that the good people at have found for Spot is in the Hospital.

What can Spot do in the hospital?

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: India has its own Covid robot, Mitra. While Mitra is not in any way as agile as Spot, he still provides a friendly face to sick patients who are tucked away from their families. It allows doctors to interact with their patients from a safe distance. In fact, Mitra’s piercing eyes can even recognise the patient it is standing in front of, and interact with the patient in a more personalised way!
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Boston Dynamics Spot Robot Dog Has Joined the Fight Against COVID-19
Spot hangs out in the hospital

To understand Spot’s role in a hospital you’ve got to look at the robot dog and see mule. Spot is essentially a vehicle for the doctor, the patients family and the doctor’s equipment. Spot can carry medical equipment, wear sensors to measure the patient’s temperature and other vital signs, and even inspect that all the medical equipment being used on the patient is working well. Even though the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is already using Spot, Spot’s potential is far from unlocked. Time will only tell how far healthcare can go with the aid of something like Spot.

So, is Spot going to dominate the world?

Boston Dynamics Robot GIF by Arnaud Laffond
Image: GIPHY

“The rogue robot story is a powerful story, and it’s been told for a hundred years, but it’s fiction. Robots don’t have agency, they don’t make up their own minds about what their tasks are, they operate within narrow bound of their programming.”

Marc Raibert, CEO, Boston Dynamics

Well, quite honestly, no. Spot is simply a well-designed and engineered robot that has been created using human and animal movement as inspiration. The “creature” may seem like a highly intelligent and balanced being, but as the CEO of Boston Dynamics, Marc Robert pointed out, the robots aren’t really intelligent at all. Any athletic intelligence that allows them to keep their balance, dodge objects and climb chairs, is simply the result the result of complex programs that humans have fed into it. So, regardless of how close the robot apocalypse may seem, friendly creatures like Spot are simply here to help. Don’t believe me? Just let Spot dance into your hearts:

With Excerpts From: The Hindu, CNN, Wired, Boston Dynamics, CNN and Freethink.

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