Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET
Way back in 2012, Boston Dynamics released a YouTube clip of a robotic cat that was its debut public appearance. The "Mini-Me" self-balancing contraption was mocked by several corners for giving off a rather impressionable, preteen-like demeanor.
Then, earlier this month, another fun video popped up on YouTube -- this time featuring the sleek SpotMini, a compact version of the humanoid Spotbot released to the public in 2016.
It's a shame these videos are so stupid, because both of these robots are the closest things we have to a scarily lifelike robot hunter. SpotMini and its larger brother, BigDog, are bipedal robots that can run or even balance like real dogs or cats.
So what's with the videos of Petrel and the cat?
I'd like to suggest a simple explanation: these cute, little robots aren't in any way using any artificial intelligence, they're not even as advanced as a simple starter model like the mini. Although Boston Dynamics designed these prototypes to be so elaborate and have a user interface that can be controlled by a human, they lack the ability to move on their own or get the point of things.
So when I saw SpotMini on the lab floor with its vacuum-like robot litter box, I realized the poor little creature was ham-fistedly following exactly what humans tell it to do, and that's far from the objective of a robot hunter.
Last summer, Boston Dynamics came under fire by The Guardian for publishing photos and videos of its low-mileage BigDog and Spot Mini robots falling at least five times during testing. Although a couple of its subjects, including SpotMini, walked away unscathed, others sustained damage to their legs from the test forces.
For now, we'll have to get used to the cute little bots we have out here, among us.