Though Creepy, Robot Delivery Dogs are Fascinating to Watch
Robots on the CES show floor are really nothing new, at this point. You come to expect to see that sort of thing when you’re walking through the Las Vegas Convention Center in early January while the tech industry is gathered 'round, showing off its latest gizmos and gadgets. But the robot delivery demo that German auto firm Continental had at its space in the North Hall was one that kept me engaged for more time than I care to admit.
Though best known for the tires they produce, Continental had a rather unique — albeit controlled — demonstration on the floor that was done in collaboration with robotics company ANYbotics. There, the two showed off what could someday be the future of package delivery. Using one of its ANYmal robots with Continental branding and a little package holder attached to the top of it, ANYbotics had the robot hop out of the back of a self-driving delivery van, walk up a couple of porch steps, ring a doorbell, and drop the package right there in front of the door before returning to the van. Along the way, the robot had to navigate its way around some debris and other obstacles.
I feel like, with all of the Boston Dynamics videos that I’ve seen of robots opening doors and doing retail labor, I should’ve been prepared for this moment, but it was still incredibly fascinating to watch a four-legged piece of machinery navigate its surroundings and perform a task to perfection. Aside from the controlled demo, other moves the robot made were controlled by a human holding a remote control. Péter Fankhauser, one of ANYbotics' cofounders, who was manning the ANYmal, assured me that the robot could operate very well on its own, but it was best, given the circumstances involved with operating on a giant tradeshow floor, that he should maintain the controls when the demo was not live.
In a truly autonomous (but stand-still) demo, the ANYmal performed a bit of yoga, contorting its legs in all sorts of directions, twisting its torso, and basically ended up folding in on itself before returning to a normal standing position. It felt like a little bit of showmanship on the robot's part, but that kind of flexibility is needed, ANYbotics said, in order to navigate all sorts of terrains and conditions, which this product can.
Despite how advanced the technology seems to be — even in the case of Boston Dynamics, which will ship its Spot Mini robot later this year) — it’s likely that we’re still a ways away from actually seeing robot delivery dogs out on the street, handing us our packages. That’s fair, given we’ve only really seen these in controlled demo sort of situations. But according to Fankhauser, ANYmal is being used in similar capacities on university campuses and in small, designated areas in Asia as it begins some real-world testing of this technology.
When not being used to deliver packages, other applications for ANYbotoics’ robot dog include things like inspections, surveillance and first response, entertainment and research purposes. Some of the high-tech capabilities built into the little guy include 3D mapping, thermal detection, auditory inspection, object detection, gas detection and visual inspection. The 30 kg machine can carry payloads up to a third of its weight while standing about two-and-a-half feet tall. The ANYmal can operate autonomously for a range of two to four hours, depending on what tasks it’s performing and what technology is being used.