Boston Dynamics are not open about their goals


writer icon Paige Whitehead     Boston-Dynamics   |   Tech     🕐 07. May. 2018

Boston Dynamics has made a name for itself in the world of robotics. Their robot creations have life-like movements and realistic responses. While their website sports a mere paragraph on each robot, one might wonder if Boston Dynamics' vagueness is hiding a much darker purpose?

About Boston Dynamics
Boston Dynamics is a robotics company that focuses on making robots that mimic the real-life movements and reactions of both humans and animals. Their current emphasis is on balance and perception. Their robotic “dogs” can climb up hills and stairs, get knocked around, regain their balance, and continue their course. They can also sprint, jump, and even open doors. 

Their YouTube channel showcases the many adventures of their robots, pulling off incredible feats and looking good doing it. Sometimes, scientists will kick or in other ways hinder the robots, throwing off their balance. The robots can correct themselves and continue. While the robots are currently powered by human controllers, they are becoming more self-sufficient. One of the ways they are becoming more independent is via the installation of mounted cameras on the robot, giving it eyes of a sort. Quite possibly, these robots will one day be operating independently, according to their programming.

The idea of a completely autonomous robot has given rise to an interest in robotics. People are curious about what Boston Dynamics are doing. Unfortunately, Boston Dynamics does not seem willing to tell.

Vague to a Fault?
Excluding links, Boston Dynamics’ entire website has approximately 2 000 words of content. There are nine robots listed on their site. On average, each robot has two small paragraphs of description. Their “About” section has less than 100 words. The same goes for their YouTube channel. Each video generally has just one short paragraph of information in the description. That paragraph purely states what is going on in the video. There are no interviews on their YouTube channel, and no real commentary. The robots are simply on display, doing what they were designed to do, nothing more and nothing less. While there is a small amount of "about", there is a distinct lack of "why".

Boston Dynamics is privately owned, and therefore not obligated to share their findings, research, or methods. Meanwhile, we live in a world of ever-growing concerns about technology and its limitations. Boston Dynamics’ robots are some of the most advanced ever seen, and yet we know very little about them. The contact page on their website contains a single email address. One can only imagine the influx of emails Boston Dynamics receives every day. Journalists, scientists and enthusiasts alike. If all that correspondence is flooding into a single email account, are they really able respond to it all? Do they even want to? In the case of this article, they couldn’t be reached for a comment.

Boston Dynamics rarely comments on articles written about them. Most articles make use of roboticists or experts outside of Boston Dynamics to comment on the information gleaned from their YouTube videos. While these external sources are reputable, they can only speculate on Boston Dynamics’ intentions with their robots. 

What are their plans for these robots? Boston Dynamics receives funding from The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) founded by the United States government. Their robot “BigDog” was designed specifically for DARPA to use in a military setting, before being discontinued for being too loud. Boston Dynamics continues to improve their robots, however, and are still working with DARPA on the concept of military robots.

Too Short-sighted?
The idea of replacing human soldiers with robotic soldiers is widely discussed. There are potentially many other great uses for these robots, however. People with disabilities could make use of “SpotMini’s” ability to open doors and assist. Its ability to sustain balance could also help those who use service dogs to maintain balance while walking. Highly mobile robots could be used to reduce workplace injuries, by taking over tasks of hard labour currently performed by humans today. Additionally, animal lovers who suffer from allergies could bond with a robotic dog of their own.

While these ideas may not be as predominant as military uses, it could help introduce robots more in our daily lives. Making the idea of robots more available to society would likely also increasing funding due to customer demand. It could be assumed that Boston Dynamics know this, but do they care? From an overall lack of commentary, it is hard to know what their mission with robotics is. One might assume that their near-silence suggests they are not overly concerned with public opinion. 

The popularity of the dystopian tech-world series “Black Mirror” has brought Boston Dynamics and their robots back under the spotlight. A recent episode, entitled “Metalhead”, centres around an evil, robotic dog living in a post-apocalyptic world. The robot-dog looks like it could have come straight out of Boston Dynamics’ own laboratory. “Black Mirror” is science fiction that centres around how our society may or may not adapt to new technologies. It aims to terrify, and it is an extremely popular show. Whether robots will take over the world is yet to be discovered. Still, it is a concern in the minds of a society that becomes more and more reliant on technology each day. With all their brilliance inside the lab, are Boston Dynamics keeping up with the outside world as well? 

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