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The Boston Dynamics Story

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Boston Dynamics has always amazed everyone with their videos of animal-like robots and recently launched humanoid robots(Atlas & Handle), But it is interesting to note that it takes them more than a decade to develop their first robot.

This post covers the complete story of Boston Dynamics and also answers the question:

How Boston Dynamics was started, Why Boston Dynamics was acquired by Google and why Google has resold them to Softbank. We will also cover the overview of their robots and their future prospects in the commercial world.

The origin

Boston Dynamics is the brainchild of Marc Raibert. While talking about his educational background  He had completed his electrical engineering from North Eastern University and later on went to MIT to pursue a Ph.D. and after that, he started working in NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory.


Later he left that and finally joined MIT as a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. While working at MIT, Marc founded the Leg Lab, a laboratory fully dedicated to doing research for developing highly dynamic legged robots.

The idea of Boston dynamics took shape from this Leg Lab.

In the year 1992, he founded Boston Dynamics, as an offshoot of MIT Leg Lab.

Over the years, the company has created robots like Atlas, BigDog, SpotMini, and Handle, all inspired by the agility and dexterity associated with animal movements. Although Boston Dynamics took more than a decade to develop its first robot, there has been no looking back since then.

 Watch the complete story of Boston Dynamics on Bizzbucket Youtube channel. 

Initial years

During its early years, Boston Dynamics mainly worked for DARPA(Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the Pentagon. It received funding in the form of research grants, mostly from DARPA. During its association with DARPA, the company focused mainly on research directed towards developing robots for military applications. During this period, it became a pioneer in developing robots that can work in real-world environments and traverse difficult terrains.

Boston Dynamics became famous when it developed BigDog, a quadruped robot for the US military. It also developed DI-Guy, software for realistic human simulation during its early years.

In the subsequent years, it worked with the American Systems Corporation under a contract received from the NAWCTSD (Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division),  where they worked to substitute naval training videos with interactive 3D computer simulations which feature DI-Guy characters.

Acquisition by Google

In 2013, Boston Dynamics was acquired by Alphabet, the parent company of Google for an undisclosed amount, along with 8 other robotic companies. Before the acquisition, Google was in the news for its plan to make a robotic division. Thus the 9 robotic companies became a part of Replicant, the new Robotic Division of Google headed by Andy Rubin, the co-founder of Android.

Along with Boston Dynamics other companies which were acquired are

Schaft, Industrial Perception, Meka and Redwood Robotics, Bot & Dolly, Autofuss, and Holomni.

The seven companies are capable of creating technologies needed to build a mobile, dexterous robot.

While Boston Dynamics has been pretty public in posting (sometimes terrifying) videos and generally talking about its advances in making animal-like robots that can trek across all terrains and get up instantly when knocked over, Schaft has been a fairly quiet presence.

Schaft revealed its first big prototypes only about two years after the acquisition. The company has been around since 2012, after being incubated in the JSK Robotics Laboratory at the University of Tokyo. It remains a secretive company: even visiting on their website was blocked.

Challenges Following the Acquisition

Following the acquisition, the 9 robotic companies including Boston dynamics were allowed to go on with their research under Andy Rubin. But in October 2014, i.e., within a year of forming the Robotic Division, Andy Rubin Left Google leaving behind a leadership vacuum in Replicant.

Also, It was speculated by many in the industry that Google wanted to develop an easy-to-use and affordable commercial robot. But Boston Dynamics was not much interested in developing such products.

So, the visions of both the companies differed significantly. Moreover, the Alphabet Executives had realized that Boston Dynamics was not going to generate much revenue soon.

In November 2015, Jonathan Rosenberg, who was heading Replicant said, “We as a startup of our size cannot spend 30-plus percent of our resources on things that take ten years.”

So, it was quite evident that the Alphabet had been trying to curtail its investments on ambitious research projects. As a result, both the companies could not reconcile their interests which finally led to their parting of ways.

Acquisition by SoftBank

In June 2017, SoftBank, the Japanese telecommunications and technology company bought the Boston Dynamics from Alphabet for an undisclosed amount.

Both companies seemed quite positive about the acquisition. After the acquisition, Masayoshi Son, Chairman & CEO of SoftBank Group Corp., said,

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“Smart robotics is going to be a key driver of the next stage of the Information Revolution, and Marc and his team at Boston Dynamics are the clear technology leaders in advanced dynamic robots.”

Commercial prospects

With their incredible robots, Boston Dynamics has never failed to thrill and amaze their audience. But until now, they have not been able to generate any revenue. None of their products hit the market, as most of these were designed for military use. Financially, they were depending on research grants from DARPA and other government agencies before Google acquired the company in 2013.

Even under Google, no commercial production of robots took place. So, at the time of acquisition by SoftBank, nobody knew what exactly Boston Dynamics would be doing under its new owner. However, the Japanese tech giant is known for its growing interests in robotics.

With the global market for robotics predicted to reach $87 billion by 2025, the market potential for robots is really huge. Considering several acquisitions made by SoftBank in the last couple of years, the company is expected to concentrate more on AI, robotics, and the Internet of Things. For example, SoftBank acquired the Aldebaran Robotics in 2012, which built the interactive and emotionally intelligent robot, Pepper.

Pepper can perceive and respond to human emotions, and entertain people by playing songs and dancing around. It is already used in over 700 businesses; there are approximately 10,000 Pepper robots in existence — many in Japan. They have already started to work in stores, hospitals, and banks.

So, it seems that the Japanese tech giant has big plans on robotics, especially on humanoid robots, the domain in which Boston dynamics is a big player. Though Boston Dynamics has not produced any commercial robot so far, it is reportedly preparing to launch dog-like SpotMini this year.

The new SpotMini is likely to be used as a security guard. But hopefully, other possible uses of SpotMini might be explored by other companies.

So, finally, Boston Dynamics’ robot is going to make a debut in the market. Over the last 25 years, the company has been continuously scaling up its efforts to redefine what robots can do by overcoming all challenges that came on its way.

Only time will tell how far the products of Boston Dynamics succeed in earning revenues them. We can only wish that the robots like their videos will impress the potential buyers, secure a distinct place in the market, and also continue to amaze us with their incredible capabilities.

What Lies in the Future

As there is a lot of fear about the new robotic revolution and loss of jobs in the future.
One study from Gartner Research states that while 1.8 million jobs will be lost by 2020, 2.3 million new ones will be created.

Even today, there are a huge number of technology jobs that did not exist ten years ago: State-of-the-art programming, data science, web security, marketing, and sales. There is no reason to believe that the need for humans to create and manage new technology will decrease.

In reality, the robotic revolution is so far away, so it will be more productive to talk about how climate change will destroy the planet long before then. If it takes a robot 20 tries to get through a door and chase you down the street, it’s going to have a tough time catching up.

But as no one can predict accurately exactly all of the jobs that robots and AI will assume from humans over the next few decades. We just don’t know where technology will take us!

Do tell us what you think!

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FAQS

Who is the founder of Boston Dynamics?

Boston Dynamics is the brainchild of Marc Raibert. While talking about his educational background  He had completed his electrical engineering from North Eastern University and later on went to MIT to pursue a Ph.D. and after that, he started working in NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory.

Why Google acquired Boston Dynamics?

In 2013, Boston Dynamics was acquired by Alphabet, the parent company of Google for an undisclosed amount, along with 8 other robotic companies. Before the acquisition, Google was in the news for its plan to make a robotic division. Thus the 9 robotic companies became a part of Replicant, the new Robotic Division of Google headed by Andy Rubin, the co-founder of Android.

Why Softbank acquired Boston Dynamics from Google?

In June 2017, SoftBank, the Japanese telecommunications and technology company bought the Boston Dynamics from Alphabet for an undisclosed amount.
Both companies seemed quite positive about the acquisition. After the acquisition, Masayoshi Son, Chairman & CEO of SoftBank Group Corp., said,

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