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French army is testing Boston Dynamics’ robot dog

The French army is the latest buyer of Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot, which it’s using for training in combat scenarios. 

Images have been shared by France’s military school, the Saint-Cyr, of Spot with soldiers during military exercises.  

The military school said Spot, and the ‘robotisation of the battlefield’, is helping ‘raising students’ awareness of the challenges of tomorrow’. 

Spot, which is suited for indoor or outdoor use, can map its environment, sense and avoid obstacles, climb stairs and open doors. 

It can undertake hazardous tasks in a variety of inhospitable environments such as nuclear plants, offshore oil fields and construction sites.  

The nimble, four-legged robotic dog – which costs a whopping $75,000 (about £60,000) – was under development by Boston Dynamics for years.

It was finally made released in June last year – and one of the first customers was Elon Musk for his firm SpaceX. 

The French army is the latest new user of Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot, which it’s using for training in combat scenarios

Spot is one of a number of robots being tested by French military students, according to French news website Ouest France. 

‘It is a robot which is sold well but especially for civil or police applications since the NYPD is currently testing it under the name of Digidog’, said Clément Levilly at European distributor Shark Robotics, told Ouest France. 

‘It has also been tested for anti-covid decontamination missions.’

Spot is one of a number of robots being tested by French military students, according to French news website Ouest France

Spot is one of a number of robots being tested by French military students, according to French news website Ouest France 

Spot, which is suited for indoor or outdoor use, can map its environment, sense and avoid obstacles, climb stairs and open doors

Spot, which is suited for indoor or outdoor use, can map its environment, sense and avoid obstacles, climb stairs and open doors

The École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr is the foremost French military academy located in Coëtquidan in Guer, Morbihan, Brittany

The École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr is the foremost French military academy located in Coëtquidan in Guer, Morbihan, Brittany

Saint-Cyr has applied Spot to three training scenarios – an offensive action with the capture of a crossroads, a defensive action by day and then at night and ‘an action of urban combat’.

These actions were performed first without Spot and then with Spot to see the difference the robot dog made to the exercises.  

Spot seems to be proving effective among the trainees, according to Ouest France. 

A sub-lieutenant called Julien was quoted as saying: ‘We are more serene if the robot has passed before to make a recce. But we take more time to act with robots.’

One of his comrades added: ‘During the phase of urban combat without a robot, I was killed, but not the time when the robot carried out the reconnaissance.’  

'When EMIA goes into battle with ground robots': France's military school, the Saint-Cyr, tweeted a picture of soldiers with Spot

‘When EMIA goes into battle with ground robots’: France’s military school, the Saint-Cyr, tweeted a picture of soldiers with Spot

Boston Dynamics told The Verge it was aware that its robots were being used with the French government, including the military.      

Spot was announced by Boston Dynamics back in 2016 and underwent various trials before being released commercially on June 17, 2020.  

Shortly after its launch last year, footage emerged of Spot patrolling a SpaceX test site in Boca Chica, Texas – suggesting multi-billionaire Elon Musk was one of the first customers.      

In footage captured by Texas-based YouTuber LabPadre, the Boston Dynamics dog can be seen trotting through thick clouds of nitrogen next to the wreckage. 

Leaked pictures also revealed a bright red dog house for the robot dog to sleep in, showing it has been rechristened ‘Zeus’ by Musk’s firm. 

Footage from YouTuber LabPadre emerged of the aftermath from SpaceX's intentional pressrure test. Eagle-eyed viewers spotted dog-like figure trotting through the nitrogen gas cloud

Footage from YouTuber LabPadre emerged of the aftermath from SpaceX’s intentional pressrure test. Eagle-eyed viewers spotted dog-like figure trotting through the nitrogen gas cloud

Spot has specifically been designed for business use – in fact, when a business buys a Spot unit, they have to acknowledge a stipulation in the terms and conditions that ‘it’s not certified safe for in-home use or intended for use near children’. 

However, Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert previously said that Spot will soon be available for home use. 

‘We also have a project that I’m sure many of you are going to be very interested in, and that’s cleaning up your house,’ he said last year. 

‘Now, Spot isn’t available yet for home use, but someday it will be. 

‘I think you’re going to love the idea that the robot can be put in a room and use its vision system to identify your kids’ clothing that’s been lying around.’ 

Boston Dynamics’ CEO Rob Playter told TechCrunch that the company had sold around 260 Spot units as of October 2020, but this has climbed to 400, the company revealed at the start of February.    

Spot, the quadruped robot has been developed by Boston Dynamics. The firm says all of its sales will be subject to terms and conditions that dictate the 'beneficial use' of its robots

Spot, the quadruped robot has been developed by Boston Dynamics. The firm says all of its sales will be subject to terms and conditions that dictate the ‘beneficial use’ of its robots 

Earlier this year, Boston Dynamics revealed a new product line for Spot, including a self-charging version of the dog, called Enterprise Spot, and Spot Arm – a fifth limb that can grasp, carry and drag different objects.

Also announced was a web-based remote operations software, called Scout, that lets operators control a fleet of Spot dogs from a virtual control room in work-based settings such as storage facilities and warehouses. 

The notoriously secretive company said potential customers can purchase Spot Enterprise, Scout and Spot Arm via its sales team, although it did not disclose prices.  

Boston Dynamics is perhaps best known for its dog-like 'Spot' and humanoid 'Atlas' robots — which have been made famous by dancing in videos on YouTube

Boston Dynamics is perhaps best known for its dog-like ‘Spot’ and humanoid ‘Atlas’ robots — which have been made famous by dancing in videos on YouTube

‘Since first launching Spot, we have worked closely with our customers to identify how the robot could best support their mission critical applications,’ said Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics. 

‘Our customers want reliable data collection in remote, hazardous, and dynamic worksites. 

‘We developed the new Spot products with these needs in mind, and with the goal of making it easy to regularly and remotely perform critical inspections, improving safety and operations.’ 

Last month, Boston Dynamics unveiled a new machine to work in warehouses that can shift up 800 boxes per hour.

The robot – called Stretch – is the first from the company that was developed to handle just one specific task.

The product was inspired by requests for such a design received from companies all around the world, the firm said.    

NEW PRODUCT LINE REVEALED BY BOSTON DYNAMICS 

SPOT ENTERPRISE

Spot Enterprise is a new version of Spot that comes equipped with self-charging capabilities and a dock.

This allows it to perform longer inspection tasks and data collection missions with little to no human interaction.

Boston Dynamics says: ‘Spot Enterprise leverages upgraded hardware for improved safety, communications, and behaviour in remote environments.

‘These upgrades expand the range that autonomous missions can cover, extend Wi-Fi support, add flexibility to Spot’s payload ports, and enable users to quickly offload large data sets collected during the robot’s mission.’

SPOT ARM

Spot Arm is the dog’s fifth limb, which has allowed it to open doors in past promotional videos but was not included in the final product released in 2020.

The add-on arm can manually or semi-autonomously grasp, lift, carry, place, and drag a wide variety of objects.

Boston Dynamics says: ‘It is also capable of manipulating objects with constrained movement and can open and close valves, pull levers and turn handles and knobs in coordination with its body to open standard push and pull doors.’

SCOUT

Scout is Boston Dynamics’ web-based software that enables operators to control their fleet of Spots from a virtual control room.

Operators can use Scout to take Spot anywhere a person could go on-site, allowing them to inspect critical equipment or hazardous areas from afar.

The software is designed with a simple user interface to run pre-programmed autonomous missions or manually control the robot.

This lets it perform various tasks such as walking or posing the robot to capture images and thermal data of obscured gauges or pipes, using Spot’s CAM+IR thermal imaging.



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