2020 was a tough year. There was almost nothing good about it, and we saw it off with a “good riddance” and hopes for a better 2021. But robotics company Boston Dynamics took a different approach to closing out the year: when all else fails, why not dance?
The company released a video last week that I dare you to watch without laughing—or at the very least, cracking a pretty big smile. Because dancing robots are funny. And it’s not just one dancing robot, it’s four of them: two humanoid Atlas bots, one four-legged Spot, and one Handle, a bot-on-wheels built for materials handling.
The robots’ killer moves look almost too smooth and coordinated to be real, leading many to speculate that the video was computer-generated. But if you can trust Elon Musk, there’s no CGI here.
Boston Dynamics went through a lot of changes in the last ten years; it was acquired by Google in 2013, then sold to Japanese conglomerate SoftBank in 2017 before being acquired again by Hyundai just a few weeks ago for $1.1 billion. But this isn’t the first time they teach a robot to dance and make a video for all the world to enjoy; Spot tore up the floor to “Uptown Funk” back in 2018.
Four-legged Spot went commercial in June, with a hefty price tag of $74,500, and was put to some innovative pandemic-related uses, including remotely measuring patients’ vital signs and reminding people to social distance.
Hyundai plans to implement its newly-acquired robotics prowess for everything from service and logistics robots to autonomous driving and smart factories.
They’ll have their work cut out for them. Besides being hilarious, kind of heart-warming, and kind of creepy all at once, the robots’ new routine is pretty impressive from an engineering standpoint. Compare it to a 2016 video of Atlas trying to pick up a box (I know it’s a machine with no feelings, but it’s hard not to feel a little bit bad for it, isn’t it?), and it’s clear Boston Dynamics’ technology has made huge strides. It wouldn’t be surprising if, in two years’ time, we see a video of a flash mob of robots whose routine includes partner dancing and back flips (which, admittedly, Atlas can already do).
In the meantime, though, this one is pretty entertaining—and not a bad note on which to start the new year.