The next generation of robots – 60 minutes

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The next generation of robots - 60 minutes


How did Michael Crichton, Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes help build a leading robotics company?
The story begins on the set of the 1993 action thriller “Rising Sun”, starring Connery and Snipes and based on Crichton’s novel of the same name.

It was during a week of filming in the hot California sun that Raibert, then a professor at MIT, realized that there was still work to be done.

“We were providing robots for the background of a scene in the film,” Raibert said. “And we were there for a week. And it was a hell of a week. ”

On set, Raibert said heat, among other things, was a variable missing from MIT’s controlled lab and that for a time “nothing worked properly.” It was at this time that Raibert decided to create Boston Dynamics.

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Anderson Cooper and Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert at the company’s Massachusetts headquarters.

Eric Kerchner / 60 minutes

The reclusive company is known for its occasional viral videos, most notably one where its robots were dancing mashed potatoes to the song “Do You Love Me?” ” Last year. A few weeks ago, they agreed to let 60 Minutes correspondent Anderson Cooper enter their New England headquarters for a rare look at their efforts spanning nearly three decades to advance robotic capabilities.

“I think there are three really key things in robotics,” said Kevin Blankespoor, a senior engineer at Boston Dynamics. “There is a vision, there is mobility and there is manipulation. ”

Unlike many Hollywood movies where robots are depicted with advanced, human-like artificial intelligence, Boston Dynamics emphasizes what it calls “athletic intelligence”, which is the the ability of machines to control things like balance, posture, and the way they move. .

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Eric Kerchner Production Still – DSC05156

Eric Kerchner / 60 minutes

The company’s “build, break, fix” approach means their machines are pushed, sometimes literally, in order to collect data and improve their capabilities.

“This generation of robots is going to be different,” said Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics. “They are going to work among us. They will work alongside us to help them, but they also take part of the burden from us. ”

Boston Dynamics hopes humans can soon work alongside robots in several ways. At 60 minutes on Sunday, the company launched its latest creation – a robot they call “Stretch.” The company said it could move 800 boxes per hour in a warehouse and operate for up to 16 consecutive hours without changing its battery.

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Boston Dynamics launched “Stretch” this Sunday over 60 minutes

Eric Kerchner / 60 minutes

Some have questioned whether advances in robotics could lead to more automation and job losses for humans. Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics, thinks these concerns are overblown.

“At the same time, you are creating a new industry,” Playter told 60 Minutes. “We’re looking at a job that we like to call the ‘robot wrangler’. It will launch and manage five to ten bots at a time and sort of make them all work. ”

“Stretch” is expected to go on sale next year. Currently, the four-legged, dog-like “Spot” robot from Boston Dynamic is on the market, starting at around $ 75,000 each.

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“Spot” is an omnidirectional robot that uses five 3D cameras to map its environment and avoid obstacles.

Eric Kerchner / 60 minutes

“Spot” can work in various contexts, from construction sites to police investigations. The potential for its future use remains as great as the imagination of those willing to buy one.

As for the future of Boston Dynamics, Marc Raibert’s original idea has come a long way since those struggles on the Rising Sun set – his company is now building robots that would seem right at home in a science film – big budget fiction.

The above video was produced by Keith Zubrow and Sarah Shafer Prediger. They were edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.

Images of ‘Spot’ at Chernobyl courtesy of the University of Bristol, UK

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