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    Boston Dynamics’ new robot has a stunning sense of balance

    A Boston Dynamics employee kicked Spot, but the robot stayed upright.
    Boston Dynamics
    A Boston Dynamics employee kicked Spot, but the robot stayed upright.

    Google-owned bot maker Boston Dynamics has added another leggy member to its family of fearsome robotic quadrupeds. This one’s called Spot, and its special talent is a killer sense of balance.

    For walking robots that are expected to tackle rough terrain, or strong wind gusts, the ability to keep from keeling over is an attractive quality. Spot is a 160-pound robot that can jog along with its minder and clamber up and down a slope with the grace of a mountain goat.

    As is customary for the Waltham robot maker, Spot was introduced to the world via YouTube — the same way the humanoid Atlas, the galloping cheetah robot, Big Dog, and Little Dog each debuted. And the Internet responded with a collective shudder.


    “It feels so wrong when they kick it,” Gabriel Perren commented on YouTube after seeing the video. It turns out Perren is not alone: German researchers have shown that humans respond with empathy when shown scenes of robots being hit.

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    (That impulse is missing in Boston Dynamics’ bot makers, who seem to delight in kicking their robot creations throughout the video.)

    Among the more resilient bots is Schaft, a humanoid from Japan that blew away competition in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a contest in which humanoid robots had to tackle an obstacle course of mock-rescue tasks. (Among the challengers were versions of Boston Dynamics’ Atlas.) Schaft’s makers also gave it the remarkable ability to stay upright even after being kicked. Shortly after the DARPA trials, Google bought Schaft too.

    “No robots were harmed in the making of this video,” Boston Dynamics claims as the video comes to an end. No word on whether robot egos were bruised, or if the robot is learning to kick back.

    Nidhi Subbaraman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @NidhiSubs.