For those unfamiliar with the phrase, “uncanny valley,” it’s usually used to describe inanimate objects that bear a striking resemblance, either through appearance or behavior, to human beings. That unsettling sense of familiarity combined with the supremely foreign leaves the observer feeling uncomfortably, uneasy, and in some cases, even threatened. If you’re still having a bit of trouble understanding the feeling the phrase characterizes… look no further than the latest video released by Boston Dynamics.
Boston Dynamics have developed a veritable army of two and four legged robots capable of doing all sorts of things, though for our sake, hopefully the robots don’t think of themselves in such terms. Previous releases have included their back flipping Atlas robots and the BigDog program developed for the U.S. military as a quadruped pack mule. One of their most recent creations bares some similarities to each: the SpotMini is a four legged robot that can be equipped with an extendable arm.. Or neck.. Or whatever you feel is most the most appropriate descriptive term for this nightmare fuel.
Calling these robots “nightmare inducing” may sound like editorializing… but it’s actually how the company’s own CEO, Marc Raibert, characterized another of their robots, called Handle.
SpotMini, in a less dressed up form, was unveiled the public in 2016 in a video that seemed to try to present the robot as a helpful household appliance, taking dishes out of the sink and loading them in the dishwasher and strolling around the house. Of course, the fact that the robot looks like the metal skeleton of a skinned dinosaur does take away a bit from its cute factor.
In the new video just released this week, a far more finished (and armless) SpotMini appears, complete with yellow fairings covering its robotic internals, but finds its path blocked by a closed door. It then steps back and waits for help from another robot – another polished looking SpotMini equipped with the extendable arm that looks both shinier and, notably, a lot less like a dinosaur.
The two robots look altogether less frightening than most other Boston Dynamics robots, largely due to the unparalleled level of finish these bots have received compared to others, but in keeping with the company’s character, it takes a turn toward the uncanny valley as the second robot comes to the aid of the first, opening the door and then holding it open for its armless friend.
Watch the video below:
Images courtesy of Boston Dynamics
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