Its official role will be as a “Factory Safety Service Robot,” according to a press release from Hyundai Motor Group, which acquired Boston Dynamics from Softbank back in June. The automaker announced this week that Spot is operating at Kia’s plant in South Korea as part of a pilot program.
To monitor and enforce safety regulations at the plant, Spot comes equipped with an extensive toolkit of high-tech features that only sound slightly dystopian. Its integrated thermal camera and 3D LiDAR sensor can detect whether a door is open or closed or if there are people in its immediate vicinity. It can also spot potential fire hazards and temperature spikes.
One of Spot’s most useful features is its ability to use image recognition powered by machine learning to learn custom tasks and skills, such as navigation patterns or how to play fetch. The robot can navigate the plant autonomously or be controlled remotely via a secure webpage that broadcasts a live stream of its movements in real-time.
Through this same webpage, Spot sends regular updates to higher-ups about its activity log and photos of any on-site situations it comes across. If it detects danger while making its rounds, its systems will automatically shoot off an alert to factory managers. Because of the robot’s small size, it can navigate narrow spaces and identify blind spots that may be difficult for its human co-workers to see, Hyundai said.
Spot’s role as a Factory Safety Service Robot marks Hyundai’s first collaboration project with Boston Dynamics, said Dong Jin Hyun, head of Hyundai’s robotics lab, in a statement.
“The Robot will help detect risks and secure people’s safety in industrial sites,” he continued. “We will also continue to create smart services that detect dangers at industrial sites and help support a safe work environment through continuous collaborations with Boston Dynamics.”
As part of its pilot program, Spot will perform late-night security patrols at Kia’s plant. Hyundai will access the robot’s effectiveness once its trial run is complete to determine whether to expand its patrol areas or give other sites their own Spots too.
Boston Dynamics came under fire earlier this year for partnering with the New York City Police Department to put so-called Digidogs in the field. Under the contract, most of Spot’s duties would have involved mundane tasks like carrying out safety inspections for grid workers or scanning building layouts for companies interested in new construction projects. However, given the NYPD’s extensive history of misconduct, people were understandably concerned at the idea of them having an army of robodogs at their command.
Widespread backlash led the NYPD to quietly cut ties with Boston Dynamics in April. At the time, a company spokesperson told the New York Times its robodogs were never designed “to be used as weapons, inflict harm or intimidate people or animals.”