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Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot to be used in controversial paintball art project

Marc Raibert, left rear, founder and chairman of Boston Dynamics, watched one of the company's Spot robots during a demonstration in January at their facilities in Waltham.
Marc Raibert, left rear, founder and chairman of Boston Dynamics, watched one of the company's Spot robots during a demonstration in January at their facilities in Waltham.Josh Reynolds/Associated Press

Boston Dynamics’ famed Spot robot is generating some controversy online, and there’s nothing the Waltham-based company can do to stop it.

A street-art company in New York called MSCHF (pronounced “mischief”) has purchased one of the four-legged $75,000 robots and mounted a paintball gun on its back. On Wednesday, MSCHF said, it will hold an online event called “Spot’s Rampage,” which will put the armed robot inside an art gallery. Randomly chosen people from around the world will be given a chance to use their smartphones to remotely control the machine and blaze away with the compressed-air gun, splashing paint all over the place.

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Boston Dynamics isn’t pleased by the prospect. “We condemn the portrayal of our technology in any way that promotes violence, harm or intimidation,” the Waltham-based company said in a statement issued on Twitter. “Provocative art can help push useful dialogue about the role of technology in our daily lives. This art, however, fundamentally misrepresents Spot and how it is being used to benefit our daily lives.” The message also hinted that MSCHF’s use of the robot may void its warranty and prevent the machine from being repaired or from receiving software updates.

Boston Dynamics did not provide any further comment in time for publication.

MSCHF issued a statement of its own. “We talked with Boston Dynamics and they HATED this idea,” the company wrote on its website. “They said they would give us another TWO Spots for FREE if we took the gun off. That just made us want to do this even more...”

In a separate e-mail to the Globe, MSCHF founding team member Daniel Greenberg pointed out that Spot is a smaller version of legged robots that Boston Dynamics built for the US military. “I think they are so upset because they work so hard to make people think Spot is just a cute robot but this is opening people’s eyes to what it really is,” wrote Greenberg.

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MSCHF is a maker of street-art products modeled after the work of artists like Banksy and Andy Warhol. The company has produced “Jesus Shoes” with soles filled with holy water, and shirts made from randomly stitched-together corporate logos.


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.