A robot is ...


1   History

Google acquired Boston Dynamics in late 2013 as part of a spree of acquisitions in the field of robotics. The deals were spearheaded by Andy Rubin, former chief of the Android division, and brought about 300 robotics engineers into Google. Rubin left the company in October 2014. Over the following year, the robot initiative, dubbed Replicant, was plagued by leadership changes, failures to collaborate between companies and an unsuccessful effort to recruit a new leader. Google put Boston Dynamics up for sale in.March 2016. [1]

[1]Brad Stone and Jack Clark. March 17, 2016. Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up For Sale in Robotics Retreat.

On Feb. 23, Boston Dynamics published a video showing off how their robots could stalk, run, walk and stack boxes.

But Boston Dynamics’s creations were not quite as advanced as people assumed. The main problem the company had solved was getting its machines to move in a realistic manner, said a person familiar with the company’s technology, but full autonomy is far away. Marc Raibert, the founder of Boston Dynamics, said as much in an interview with IEEE Spectrum in February, when he acknowledged that in the videos, a human steered the robot via radio during its outside strolls.

A robot can’t decide to go for a walk on its own, said Rodney Brooks, an artificial intelligence pioneer and founder of Rethink Robotics, "It doesn’t have the intent a dog has."

To develop robots, you have two options: You can either simulate an environment and robot with software and hope the results are accurate enough that you can load it into a machine and watch it walk. Or you can skip the simulation and tinker directly on a robot, hoping you can learn things from the real world-- but that’s awfully slow.

Google faces this problem with its self-driving cars, and it tests them both ways. It has real cars drive a few thousand miles a week on real roads, and at the same time it simulates millions of miles a week driven by virtual cars on virtual roads. The idea is that the simulator can test out different scenarios to see how the cars react, and the real world can give Google data -- and problems -- that virtual cars don’t encounter.

The problem with robots is that they tend to be more advanced than cars. Instead of wheels, you have legs-- and arms, necks, knee joints, and fingers.

Sergey Levine recently worked on a project to tackle this problem at Google. The company programmed 14 robotic arms to spend 3,000 hours learning to pick up different items, teaching each other as they went. The project was a success, but it took months, and it used robot arms rather than an entire body.

[2]Jack Clark. March 18, 2016. Why Google Wants to Sell Its Robots: Reality Is Hard

Historically, robots were caged.

Baxter & Sawyer developed robots used "series elastic actuator" allows you to know how much force you are applying on a joint.