A Real Head Turner: Exploring the Campus with The Boston Dynamics Spot Robot Dog

Photo: Aino A.

Technology never fails to amaze us with its advancements, making our lives a little more comfortable in the process. It might be an exceedingly difficult question to answer whether technology has adapted to human needs or humans have adapted to technological solutions as a part and parcel of their lives. The world of today might as well have been a killer science fiction story from 50 years ago. Something we have seen many times in science fiction movies suddenly jumps right in front of us. Such an event recently took place in Robostudio at Tampere University. And it's safe to say that this event felt as close as it gets to a scary robot uprising, but somehow in a positive manner!

A long-awaited event finally became reality when the Boston Dynamics robot dog Spot arrived at Tampere University. Spot is a zoomorphic robot that mimics the outer body shape and movements of a dog. It can avoid obstacles, and move up and down 30° slopes and 30 cm (about 11.81 in) steps, can carry up to 14 kg of equipment on its back at a speed of 1.6 m/s, i.e., 6 km/h. With a 360-degree field of view and the capability of functioning in temperatures between -20 and +45 degrees, Spot has become the first mobile zoomorphic robot of its kind to be able to handle tasks both indoors and outdoors with ease. At Tampere University, Spot has been envisioned as a central point of research projects like Human-Nature-Robot relationship under Gamification Group supported by the UNITE Flagship program. In addition, it will be experimented in the role of a walking friend in the collaboration pilot organized by AI Hub Tampere, GettingBetter and Viola-koti. This is just a start, as several other research groups and projects have already raised their interest. 

Photo: Aino A.

We walked Spot out of the Robostudio to the corridor of the university and immediately all the attention was drawn towards it. Half of the people were watching with disbelief and awe while the other half were busy taking pictures of Spot. We even had to stop walking for some people to take pictures! And when Spot came out of the building, the attention doubled; People were almost making a march with Spot, and everyone was enjoying this technological specimen. We tried running Spot into obstacles and small barriers to see how efficiently it handles them and it did magnificently. Some spectators even felt an urge to interact with Spot and were amazed by its features. A blind person also came along with their partner and felt Spot by touching. Funnily enough, a dog noticed Spot and immediately realized (sort of, maybe!) that humans might be thinking to replace their kind with robots, and it could not stop barking at Spot! Fear of a robot uprising might just have been transferred to dogs as well as humans at that very moment. 

Photo: Aino A.

The experience was very positive, and everyone seemed to like Spot eventually. But it was not sunshine all the time. When Spot stood on feet for the first time, some of the researchers got scared of the sharp movements and behavior. It also broke down once on the streets in front of many spectators, risking its initial reputation as one of the most advanced robots of its generation. In these situations, Spot probably just became a little bit humane and made mistakes! But it then got up again, walked up some stairs and strolled through the campus like a champion! And when it was at it, well, a real head turner!  

Here is a video of the experience we had with Spot:

Play video on YouTube (opens in new tab)

Written by Eshtiak Ahmed from Gamification group, video made by Aparajita Chowdhury from Robostudio team 

We thank all the enthusiastic walkers and passers-by who joined the unpacking session. Let’s keep walking with Spot dog! 

Ps. Or is it a dog..?