Boston Dynamics today opened commercial sales of Spot, its quadruped robot that can climb stairs and traverse rough terrain, in Canada, the EU, and the U.K. Additionally, CEO Robert Playter told VentureBeat in an interview that Spot is getting more payloads next year, including a recharging station and a robot arm.
Boston Dynamics started selling the Spot Explorer developer kit for $74,500 to U.S. businesses in June. Spot Explorer includes the robot, two batteries, the battery charger, the tablet controller, a robot case, a power case, and Python client packages for Spot APIs. You can only buy up to two Spots via Boston Dynamics’ shopping portal. If you want more units, the company has two other pricing tiers: Academic (discount for accredited educational institutions) and Enterprise (more sensors, software integration, communications infrastructure, and robot fleet management). The company also sells add-ons ranging from $1,650 for an extra charger all the way up to $34,570 for a lidar and camera system. Pricing for Spot and its payloads in Canada and Europe will be the same as the U.S. “We’re not really distinguishing,” Playter told VentureBeat. “We’ve got our published pricing on our website.”
Boston Dynamics has a timely sales pitch. COVID-19 has drummed up business interest in technology that can limit human contact. In April, Boston Dynamics open-sourced its health care robotics toolkit after deploying a Spot unit to help a hospital’s health care providers remotely triage patients. The Spot robot featured an iPad and a two-way radio for video conferencing.
Spot’s modular platform (mounting rails, payload ports, and SDK) is what sets it apart from other robots. Even though Spot has been selling for months now, Boston Dynamics isn’t done expanding its capabilities. First up is a recharging station that Playter said will arrive in the “December-January timeframe” (a company spokesperson clarified with “early 2021,” which rules out December.)
“The robot is going to be able to recharge itself,” Playter said. “We have a recharging station and it can autonomously go plug itself in, recharge the battery, and keep going. We’re excited about that. That’ll be part of our enterprise version. The enterprise version is really targeted at scalable, multi-unit sales to industry. They have big sites. The robot needs to be able to get all around the site and it might exceed the battery capacity, so it needs to be able to recharge to keep going.”
In June, Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert revealed that the company wants to sell Spot with a robot arm. In our interview, Playter said “the arm is going to become available in the New Year as well. So that’s sort of a fun new addition.” When exactly in 2021? “January,” he said.
Spot has cameras on its front, back, and sides that help it navigate, travel autonomously, move omnidirectionally, go up and down stairs, and traverse a terrain. But it also has what the engineers call a “chicken head” mode that lets it decouple the motion of its arm from its body, similar to how many animals can stabilize one part while the rest of the body moves. Boston Dynamics demoed the functionality years ago in this video, 48 seconds in:
This decoupling-from-the-body functionality is key to having a useful mobile robot with an arm. “Once you have an arm on a robot, it becomes a mobile manipulation system,” Raibert said in June. “It really opens up just vast horizons on things robots can do. I believe that the mobility of the robot will contribute to the dexterity of the robot in ways that we just don’t get with current fixed factory automation.”
Playter expanded on the robot arm in our interview. “Since the launch of Spot we spent a lot of engineering effort developing these other payloads,” he said. “The arm is a whole other robot. The arm is almost as complicated as Spot. That’s practically a whole other robot to develop on top of the robot. And I think there will be additional capability and functionality that we continue to add to Spot.”
Demand for Spot surged in Europe following the opening of Spot’s commercial sales in the U.S.
“We’ve got about 250 robots, either leased or sold, thus far,” Playter said. “We’ve definitely seen business accelerating. We launched in September and started with an early adopter program, which was sort of a more selective and curated list of customers. And we opened that up further in June. But our first 120 robots took about seven months to sell and we sold another 120 in the following three and a half months. So we’ve seen essentially a doubling in the rate of sales. It’s been an interesting pickup, especially the last sort of three or four months. Just tracking the numbers of deals per month we’re successively setting records each month for the number of new deals.”
Spot commercial sales in the U.S. followed the company’s early adopter program that helped companies in North America and Europe integrate the robot into their operations. The company is now hoping to replicate its domestic success in Canada and Europe. Boston Dynamics shared three examples of Spot being put to use in Europe:
- Architecture firm Foster + Partners used Spot to enable real-time construction monitoring of their Battersea Power Station project in London.
- Merck KGaA enlisted Spot to improve efficiency and reliability of its industrial operations through remote sensing and inspection of a thermal exhaust treatment plant in Darmstadt, Germany.
- Kvaerner Stord leveraged Spot to test automated tracking and management of 100,000 assets in surveying its 200,000 square meter shipyard through visual asset tracking technology, computer vision, and 360 imagery.
Spot robots have been used to document construction progress, monitor remote or hazardous environments, and provide situational awareness in environments like power generation facilities, decommissioned nuclear sites, factory floors, construction sites, and research laboratories. Spot has also been used to explore projects for creative industries, such as dancing on stage and performing in theme parks.
What will businesses use Spot for once it has a recharging station and a robot arm?