We occasionally explore ground-based drones, sometimes known as “Rovers.” And one of the most sophisticated, commercially available products of its kind is Spot – the quadruped produced by robotics and AI leader Boston Dynamics.
We’ve written a number of pieces recently about the growing evolution in autonomous drone operations that (obviously) incorporate some form of AI. But while our focus has been on machines that fly in the air, a growing number of ground-based drones are carrying out increasingly sophisticated tasks.
And this test? Well, it’s pretty cool.
Spot is a pretty special piece of technology. The ground-based drone/robot is capable of adapting to terrain and can be dispatched on routine inspection missions using visual, LiDAR, or other sensors to capture the required data. But it can also do much more.
Because Spot is capable of understanding and adapting to its environment, it can also be sent out on autonomous missions that are more exploratory in nature. Say, for example, you wanted to map a cave. Spot is capable of figuring things out as it goes along, detecting objects of interest, all while sending back rich data to someone monitoring its control system.
We know Elon Musk has his sights set on the Red Planet, but prior to space exploration, a lot of robotics testing takes place on earth. Some of these tests take place in what are referred to as analogue environments, meaning places where the conditions are somewhat similar to what you might find on another planet.
For example, there are tests that take routinely take place inside a vacuum. Or there are experiments where devices sample simulated lunar regolith, the fine material of dust, crushed rock, and other material that coats the surface of the moon.
But this test involves Spot…and caves that will one day be explored on other planets.
That’s precisely what Boston Dynamics has been up to, testing Spot’s ability to explore and map caves using its own brainpower. The company just released a fascinating video about the work, and it really does give you a sense of Spot’s amazing capabilities:
We’ve seen this before…
Yes, we’ve seen other scans from inside caves, but the autonomous nature of this exploration reminded us of a fantastic scene from the under-rated sci-fi flick Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott. Here, two flying sensors are flicked into the air to map an entire corridor (spoiler alert: it’s part of a spaceship). There’s no audio with this clip, but it’s still pretty cool.
With drones/robots like Spot, in conjunction with many of the other UAS now entering the market, this kind of technology is rapidly becoming less fiction and more science. We’re not far away from the scene depicted above (except, of course, for those interstellar spaceships).
Seriously: We’re getting there.
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