Just me, or is it crazy they haven't had 1 year of profitability in nearly 3 decades of operations.
When they got back into the hardware business in the early 2000's, those projects were primarily funded by DARPA/DOD contracts, but the steady income stream provided by e.g. DI-Guy helped fill the gaps between contracts, allowing them to run a business that, though lean, stayed in the black. Eventually, as a part of the Google acquisition, DI-Guy was divested to VT MAK, another local company in the modeling/sim software business .
Source: former employee that worked at BD for the better part of a decade from the mid 00's to late 10's
You’d think 30 years of unprofitable future tech would happen at a university or the military or some skunkworks operation for a massive company.
Though I’m sure quite a bit of their funding is military.
Sure, the cutting edge stuff will always be in the realm of experts with funding, but the pace of progress in technology is such that there seem to be plenty of opportunities for innovation from the grassroots level, serious amateurs and hobbyists.
It kinda feels similar to the early era of personal computers, where anybody with interest and ideas could enter the field, learn things on their own, and even contribute to its advancement.
Further, building a modern full scale General Electric GE90 is extremely far beyond what a hobbyist can accomplish. If anything the true cutting edge is getting ever further out of reach. A few peasants could build a full scale trebuchet, good luck getting your friends together to build a F-22.
Still, it shouldn't be that hard to make a small version of Big Dog technology now. They put a lot of money into fast hydraulic servos, which you no longer need for anything smaller than a horse. Gyros and accelerometers are cheap now, because they're phone parts. Motors and motor controllers are much better and cheaper now.
Big Dog's compute power was a Pentium 4, which is nothing today. Force feedback sensors for the feet are still expensive, because there's no mass market. You need those for slip control.
That's why it can really on be funded by guys like Alphabet who can take these R&D hits.
The bet really looks something iRobot - Every household has a robot servant/maid that's made by Boston Dynamics. Some of the more recent videos make me want to believe it's within my lifetime.
I love watching the documentaries (parodies) of how we get to Skynet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3RIHnK0_NE
Its easy to imagine they are operating as a test-bed company for ideas for the investor/3rd party/military. Before a real investment can happen they are used to prototype any 'far out' ideas.
I can picture that being Boston Dynamics when the robot uprising happens for real.
Those companies are always on top of the world in those movies, so maybe it will pan out after all.
Also, beyond stakeholder investment, the contracts they had were often government contracts, or when in private companies it would be R&D, i.e. all made “at a loss” (until BR finds the right sauce).
Wow, that's long enough that their earliest patents would have expired by now.
And Boston Dynamics is not an exception. Government funded primarily until 2013 when it was acquired by Google. Google then didn't have the stomach to continue to fund it, so they sold it to Softbank.
However, without a really salient use-case to demonstrate why a $75k quadruped is better than a similarly priced remote-controlled and tracked robot, it's hard to envision how these things will take-off. The use-cases that I've read offered "search and rescue, bomb disposal" remind me of how early personal computers kept advertising "recipes and electronic check balancing" before they found their potential.
What if, and here's a stupid example, BD knuckled down and super optimized Spot for truck-to-door package delivery. What if the driver never had to get out of the truck, stop the engine, or secure the vehicle to go walk the 30 feet down my driveway to drop off the last package I ordered? What if Spot simply grabbed the package, jumped out of the truck, dropped it on my doorstep and the ran back to the truck and repeated for all the houses on my street? What if over a period of some number of years it could be shown that this increased efficiency for a truck to more than cover the cost of the $75k robot?
Spot would have to be able to:
- charge on the truck while in transit
- autonomously identify packages it can deliver (reading barcodes)
- have a GPS database of all front stoops then navigate safely to them with a package
- find it's way back to and onto the truck
- alert the driver when a package is too large/awkward for Spot to handle by itself,
- know when the driver decided to deliver the package instead of Spot
You lose some truck volume to Spot, some batteries and a charger. But as the truck fleet electrifies, it could just use the truck batteries for some of this.
Let's say each truck upwards of 200 stops on a route , at 1 minute per stop. A Spot enabled truck could drop that down to 30 seconds per stop. At the upper end (200 stops per route) that saves more than 1 hour of delivery time. Assume we're not trying to increase the carrying capacity of the truck, but reduce the hours worked per driver. UPS drivers make around $32/hr . With Monday - Saturday delivery, that's about $10k per year per driver saved. At current Spot prices, that's about 8 years of operational service to pay for a Spot. Assume at volume the price per Spot can drop down to $50k per robot. Then that's a 5 year return.
Let's say that this system works for $35% of all UPS and Fedex routes (delivery to single homes and townhouses) and there's one truck per route.
Fedex - ~30,000 total trucks = 10,500 Spot enabled trucks
UPS - ~100,000 vehicles = 35,000 Spot enabled trucks
Total of 45,500 Spots = market of $3.4billion for BD at $75k per Spot, $2.27b at $50k. BD could probably do somewhere in the middle if they just leased the fleet of Spots, and provided managed maintenance, upgrades, and other services. What if USPS could take part in this, they operate ~140,000 LLV (mail trucks)?
Now let's say these fleet delivery operators get self driving delivery trucks. How much of all package delivery could be handled by an automated truck + spot system and how much does that save UPS/Fedex in salary? There's no point making the trucks self-driving if the last leg of delivery isn't solved since they then have to pay a premium for the trucks and still pay for the delivery human, so a Spot-like solution would have to happen first.
1 - https://www.quora.com/How-many-stops-does-the-average-FedEx-...
2 - https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/ups-driver-salary-SRCH_KO...
If that assumption is true, then we already have the tech to do this.
Do you mean a robot to guard the forest from loggers, or something else?
The problem is humans are taking over nature. Planting a couple of trees here and there is pointless if you're going to cut them down again for real estate or farm developments.
You got a source for that? The communications from the us census bureau seems to disagree.
The median age in the EU is 43, vs 38 in the US, and 30 worldwide.
And the median age in Germany is nearly as high as in Japan, which is famous for its aging population.
Hard to really get behind such customized moralizing when we’re not really putting ourselves aside as engineers doing grave damage but on a longer, vaguer timeline.
Our linear progression towards yearly updates is hardly warranted anymore. Exponential breakthroughs are pushed to the side with our fetishizing stable revenue over R&D, low taxes, unicorns built on cut/paste-able software IP, and mathematical gamesmanship, and eyeball addiction over variety of ideas.
Purposefully stimulated chemical addiction to agency of self indulgence and nihilism is generating economic activity, not novel invention.
Take some solace that it’s not all your fault: We’re not allowed to assess the validity of many key economic assumptions, even with historical evidence like the pre-80s era of high taxes and strong unions.
Just trust that non-gods picked correctly for all time decades ago, and iterate on their meaning!
Really having a hard time with the glaring hypocrisy of all first worlders right now. Science! Oh but also yeah just leave economics alone, the physics there has to be read different.
Take yourself a bit more seriously first and we’ll moralize about others later.
No doubt, it will continue.
Didn't Segway demonstrate something like that?
Edit: Okay, it's only somewhat Atlas-like, for very low values of Atlas. Dean Kamen first demonstrated the iBOT wheelchair in 1999:
They look very weird, and how they move isn't much better => I always have a hard time when trying to keep watching one of their videos :P
Why walk when you can fly?
Overcoming gravity takes a lot of energy, and if you're only moving a relatively short distance it's a huge waste getting a payload in to the air if there's an acceptable alternative.
For long distances fixed wing drones will definitely be better though.
Wheels (if practical) are best. Then legs (or wheel/leg hybrids). Then fixed wing (if you have somewhere you can take off and land). Multirotors are easy and fun but only practical for short missions.
Flying like a quadcopter is more like walking like a cart.
The solution to police/state violence is political, not (anti-)technological.
In what way is it better? The results seem identical and processes sufficiently similar to be isomorphic.
Should fishing companies feel responsible because someone out there used fishing line to strangle people to death?
It's like Elon's global internet. There's definitely some lives to be improved with video chat deployed anywhere on earth, but I don't take that to be a benefit worth the cost of enabling worldwide real time surveillance and the deployment of remote control killer robots.