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Hyundai mulls robot dog Spot for facility inspector job

Boston Dynamics also eyes box-moving Stretch for Hyundai Motor's last-mile product delivery

By Sep 10, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter (left) and Chief Technology Officer Aaron Saunders with Spot (Courtesy of Hyundai Motor)
Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter (left) and Chief Technology Officer Aaron Saunders with Spot (Courtesy of Hyundai Motor)

South Korea's largest carmaker Hyundai Motor Group is considering employing Spot, the four-legged robot developed by Boston Dynamics Inc., in its production lines as a facility safety inspector and security guard, according to the US robotics company on Friday.

The maneuverable dog-like robot may provide mobile inspection and security patrol services at Hyundai's assembly lines, Boston Dynamics Chief Executive Robert Playter told an online media session. 

Hyundai is also looking to use the robotics company's box-handling robot Stretch, which will be commercially available from next year, in the last stage of its transportation process.

In December 2020, the South Korean automobile group acquired an 80% stake in Boston Dynamics from Japan’s SoftBank Group for $880 million. Hyundai Chairman Chung Euisun poured 240 billion won ($206 million) of his own money to buy the remaining 20% stake in the company.

Since the acquisition, Hyundai has been seeking ways to use robots in smart factories and last-mile product delivery, while applying the US firm's technology to its autonomous driving and urban air mobility (UAM) projects.

Since Spot was commercialized last year, hundreds of the dog-like robots, designed for automated sensing and inspection, have been working in several production lines around the world.
Boston Dynamics' Stretch (Courtesy of Boston Dynamics)
Boston Dynamics' Stretch (Courtesy of Boston Dynamics)

During the online event, Spot showed off improved performance, picking up a bag and moving it with one of its two front legs, as a person would use their arms and hands. The company also unveiled the Spot Arm that semi-autonomously turns valves, flips levers, opens doors and performs other complex functions. 

Meanwhile, warehouse robot Stretch displayed its ability to move a box weighing over 20kg. CEO Playter said Stretch can move 800 boxes around warehouses in an hour, detecting and moving objects, while avoiding obstacles with the adoption of machine learning. 

The company's humanoid robot Atlas with 28 joints has an even wider range of control and flexibility than Spot, boasting complicated moves such as handstands and somersaults.

Chief Technology Officer Aaron Saunders said it is premature to commercialize Atlas as the robot is still in the development stage. The company is working on enhancing its function for delicate arm movements.

Boston Dynamics is also trying to incorporate Hyundai Motor Group's technologies, such as those involving autonomous driving and car batteries, to cut its production costs and upgrade quality. 

The humanoid robot Atlas
The humanoid robot Atlas

Playter added that the company will be able to reach a breakeven point and turn profitable next year for the first time in its 30-year history as its newest robot Stretch then becomes commercially available.

It is also seeking to lower its robot prices and considering introducing robot rental services to make them more affordable. Spot's currently has a price tag of $74,500.

Write to Byung-uk Do at dodo@hankyung.com

Yeonhee Kim edited this article.

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