Spot, the robotic “dog” design from Boston Dynamics, has had a busy pandemic, between counseling patients and enforcing social distancing guidelines. Now, a new partnership with a New Zealand robotics firm is setting up the four-legged automaton for a new line of work: farming.
Technically, the partnership is much bigger than that. Rocos specializes in the remote monitoring and operation of robot fleets. By working together, the capabilities of Boston Dynamics robots like Spot will expand thanks to human operators who can manage their performance from a great distance.
Think of the farming thing as a proof-of-concept. A video released by Rocos shows Spot exploring rough terrain, inspecting crops, and herding sheep – all of which is meant to serve as a demonstration of the various ways remote operation can be used to put robots to work.
“Equipped with payloads like heat, LIDAR, gas and high resolution camera sensors, Spot navigates rugged environments to capture data in real time – feeding this data back into existing business systems, wherever they are located ,” the Rocos news announcement reads, before offering some examples.
“In the energy sector this provides real-time anomaly detection as well as access to historic digital records for comparison. In agriculture, farmers can access information such as more accurate and up-to-date yield estimates. This provides access to a new category of automation, and a safer, more efficient business.”
Automation has been creeping into industrial spaces for many years now and the coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated that shift. As the illness has come for warehouse and assembly line workers, who all tend to operate in close quarters, the question of how and where robots can step in to help has become louder and more pressing.
We were already starting to see robots pop up in supermarkets before the pandemic threat really started having an impact in the United States. Amazon is also reportedly looking at installing robots in its warehouses.
Not everyone is on board with throwing open all the doors to using robots as replacements for human labor, of course. Amazon in particular has faced harsh criticism in recent months for what many have described as unsafe warehouse working conditions. The move toward automation in general seems inevitable, but Amazon’s will face particular scrutiny over any such decision due to the stories that have come out.
Individual company stories aside, the march toward automation continues on. Boston Dyanmics’ partnership with Rocos ought to speed that along, given the capabilities of robots like Spot and all the potential ways remote operation could put them to work.