At the Boston Dynamics AI Institute, Hyundai and Boston Dynamics plan to explore artificial intelligence for advanced robots and new hardware designs.
Founded in 1992, the robotics company Boston Dynamics can look back on a long history of research and development. However, artificial intelligence has only played a minor role in this. Instead, the company has focused on frictionless robot mechanics combined with hand-programmed capabilities.
More AI for Spot, Atlas and Co.
But that’s changing: cognitive advances in artificial intelligence, such as machine vision, are creating new opportunities in robot control as well. Recently, Boston Dynamics has increasingly switched from manually programmed motion sequences to automated ones and is using more computer vision, for example for its Stretch warehouse robot.
AI for robotics will be further advanced at the newly established AI Institute: Boston Dynamics says the research will focus on cognitive AI, AI for sports or robot motion, organic hardware design, and ethics and policy. Each of these disciplines contributes to advanced robots, the institute’s announcement says.
Initially, Boston Dynamics and parent company Hyundai are investing $400 million to build the institute, which will develop its own technologies and collaborate with research units at other companies and universities.
Robots should become more like humans
The institute’s goal is to develop a new generation of robots that are “far better than anything that exists today.” Robots must become “smarter, more agile and dexterous, and generally easier to use” and “more like people”, the company says.
Once that goal is achieved, it says, robots and other types of intelligent systems could further improve productivity, take over dangerous jobs for humans, care for people with disabilities, or help people overall “live better lives.”
With the AI Institute, Boston Dynamics could try to put research projects and profitable products on their own feet: For more than two decades, the company was primarily a research and development company. It didn’t launch open robot sales until the summer of 2020 with its Spot dog robot. It also introduced Stretch, a logistics robot designed to help in the warehouse at DHL, for example.
On the other hand, there is the visionary humanoid robot Atlas (see our history of robotics), which has no immediate practical use yet (and may never have), but which will advance robotics overall as a research project.
Boston Dynamics is likely to focus more on commercial, productive robots, also considering the economic requirements of its listed parent company Hyundai, while the Boston Dynamics AI Institute is pushing ahead with complex basic research into robotics.
This theory is supported by a personnel decision: Al Rizzi, who has more than 25 years of experience in robotics development – including 17 years as a senior scientist at Boston Dynamics – will become chief technology officer of the AI Institute.