How this highly secretive Boston based startup inspires Indian firms in robotics space

Google has been relatively quiet about its growing robotics ambitions. The multinational giant acquired a robotics firm Boston Dynamics, back in 2013. The firms builds advanced robots with remarkable behavior: mobility, agility, dexterity, and speed.

Marc Raibert founded Boston Dynamics in 1992. The firm’s original focus lay on developing human simulation software used to train law enforcement. Raibert’s extensive research around robotic mobility lead the company to eventually expand to producing robotic machines.

Boston Dynamics leverages computation and sensor-based controls to unlock the capabilities of complex mechanisms. The development teams at the organization take projects, which combine their proficiencies in initial conceptualization, proof-of-principle prototyping, build-test-build engineering, field testing, and low-rate production.

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Mobility and innovation are crucial to Boston Dynamics’ stealth-based strategy

Interestingly, the organization hasn’t made too much noise or too many announcements in the Robotics landscape, despite being one of the leading innovators in the space. The robotics firm essentially operates in stealth mode, creating major value proposition through its work.

From a technical perspective, Boston Dynamics builds robots which showcase great deal of mobility. It has showcased a plethora of robots with brilliant movement mechanisms. They specialize in creating robots that move in almost impossibly life-like ways. They can climb hills, carry heavy loads, and follow humans around. One of its creations Spot, has made its video debut showing just how nimble and sturdy walking robots have become.

It’s fair to assume that going stealth mode while simultaneously innovating has well worked well for the firm. This can be illustrated by the acquisitions that the firm has gone through over the last couple of years, which includes industry leaders like Google and SoftBank. This is really something Indian startups must consider. At the end of the day, customers barely care about the talk, but the value that the robot will offer.

How is India adopting Robotics-based strategy in the defence sector?

Boston Dynamics’ unique ecosystem enables dedicated solutions for military applications. They build robots which facilitate defense-based operations. The organization designed LS3 to Travel anywhere with Marines and soldiers on foot, besides carrying their load. LS3 carries 182 kg of gear and enough fuel for a 32 km mission lasting 24 hours.  

This is not all, their humanoid robot, Atlas can enlist in the US military anytime she wants. Essentially, Boston Dynamic is known for its work with the military, and the firm has partnered with DARPA, the U.S. Navy, the Army, and the Marines, in the past.

India can take cue from Boston Dynamics and fuel more of its robotics development towards the defense space.

CAIR, a DRDO lab has been trying to develop a Multi Agent Robotics Framework (MARF) for quite some time now. This project will equip the Indian army with a plethora of robots that shall work together.

Can Indian startups also incorporate Boston’s strategy of building robots by taking cues from nature?

Boston Dynamics has built several robots so far which not only look like animals you know, besides, they power an array of military and commercial applications. As mentioned earlier, BigDog was originally funded by DARPA. The Army Research Laboratory’s RCTA program also invested in BigDog to add a manipulator and do dynamic manipulation. The robot can manipulate objects in its environment and travel on rough terrain by leveraging technologies such as stereo vision, range sensing, and other sensors. The robot can run 10 kmh, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walk across rubble, climb muddy hiking trails, walk in snow and water, and carry up to 150kg loads.

Indian startups can also invest towards creating highly advanced humanoid projects. Boston Dynamics’ Atlas can coordinate motions of the arms, torso and legs to achieve whole-body mobile manipulation, greatly expanding its reach and workspace. The robot can manipulate objects in its environment and travel on rough terrain by leveraging technologies such as stereo vision, range sensing, and other sensors.

The organization’s latest creation is a two-wheeled, four-legged hybrid robot named Handle. The two legs at the end of its back serve as stabilized wheels, which lets Handle stand up vertically and roll around at speeds of up to nine miles per hour. The robot uses many of the same dynamics, balance, and mobile manipulation principles found in their quadruped and biped robots.

What can Indian startups pick from SoftBank’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics?

Boston Dynamics has always pushed the boundaries of what advanced robotics can do, and create useful applications in a smarter and more connected world. However, the organization didn’t plan to produce any marketable product in the next few years, which was not particularly in line with Google’s market strategy. As a result, Alphabet considered parting ways with Boston Dynamics.

Alphabet sold the firm to SoftBank which will help the Japanese multinational telecommunications and internet company to continue contributing to the next generation of robotics. Marc Raibert, CEO and Founder, Boston Dynamics comments, “We at Boston Dynamics are excited to be part of SoftBank’s bold vision and its position creating the next technology revolution. We also share SoftBank’s belief that advances in technology should be for the benefit of humanity.”

Key Takeaways for Indian startups from Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics’ extremely engaging ecosystem for robotics sets a brilliant example for other startups in the arena to follow. The firm is gradually making progress, working on really competent robotic projects.

Indian startups can take a hint from this to create robots which not only assist humans in simple tasks, but can also help them accomplish larger jobs which are usually time-consuming.

Also, the startups could invest more towards creating unique and innovative robots. Boston Dynamics provides a great example of how robotics companies this day are investing towards creating different types of robots, for say, animal-like robotic designs.

Amit Paul Chowdhury
With a background in Engineering, Amit has assumed the mantle of content analyst at Analytics India Magazine. An audiophile most of the times, with a soul consumed by wanderlust, he strives ahead in the disruptive technology space. In other life, he would invest his time into comics, football, and movies.

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