Spot Boston Dynamics 1

Star Wars, Spot the bot & changing how we operate our robotic coworkers

Oct. 4, 2022
The experience of using a robot is a huge part of the adoption challenge within the industry.

Engineers at Boston Dynamics have created a robot with a wide array of industrial use cases, from work safety to digital data collection and more. But they realized as they approached the commercial release of Spot that the user experience was lacking. And as we know, if the users don’t want to use the tool, it doesn’t get used. 

So the Boston Dynamics team connected with Rightpoint to develop a robot experience that was user-friendly. Ben Johnson, SVP of digital products at Rightpoint, was part of the team that helped make Spot more appealing to those who would be working with it. Here, we discuss the project…

Smart Industry: How did your team help Spot achieve commercial viability? 

Ben: We helped concept what the driving experience should be like—what is it like to use a tablet that controls an amazing robot like Spot. Boston Dynamics knew that this was a gap for them in terms of the overall experience, and that’s why they sought out Rightpoint. We helped them deliver a great control experience in a short amount of time. What would have taken Boston Dynamics more than a year to create, we executed in six months. Ultimately this helped them ship their first 100 robots. To go from a laptop driving experience to a tablet that is included with every Spot robot was a major improvement. 

As a partner of Boston Dynamics, we’re excited to help organizations that are thinking about using an autonomous robot, like Spot, with their deployments. Spot is an amazing platform with so many different capabilities. Helping organizations figure out how to best utilize it to solve critical business problems is something we’re really excited about.

Smart Industry: How wide / common is the divide between robotics capabilities and implementation / user experience? 

Ben: I think this is a huge area of opportunity. Robots are intimidating. Most of them don’t behave the way our phones or tablets do, but that touch-based interaction and responsiveness is what we, as consumers and everyday software users, expect. Look at the robotics industry—these companies are solving incredibly complicated physical challenges, building something that can traverse different terrain, manipulate physical objects, understand the environment around them through computer vision. Just making that robot work is the most challenging part of the equation. And I think a lot of organizations just don’t have the time or the teams to focus on what the end-user is going to experience when they connect to that robot through a device like a phone or tablet or some sort of screen attached to it.

As far as a fix, I think that’s where organizations like Rightpoint come in. We have the know-how and the experience to help organizations get to market faster, to build those connected products and connected experiences and help them shine. But I do think organizations are getting better at this and recognizing that the user experience is growing in importance.

Smart Industry: How did Star Wars influence this process? 

Ben: "Rogue One" came out around the time we were developing the first versions of the Android tablet app that controls Spot and there are some amazing graphical interfaces throughout that film. Through our initial discovery meetings we discovered a lot of the Boston Dynamics engineers got into robotics because of Star Wars. Our lead designer is a huge fan (as an aside, he even builds amazing Star Wars-inspired Halloween costumes every year...think film-set-levels of quality). In terms of the influence, a lot of it was around the graphical representation of various controls within the tablet-driving experience, the animations, and the heads-up information. I will say it was quite fun to see that Spot was later used by Disney in "The Book of Boba Fett."

Smart Industry: Describe the teleoperation use case. 

Ben: Spot is used both for line-of-sight operations (someone can see Spot and is moving it around) as well as tele-operation where they can’t physically see the robot but can look through its cameras. This is a very common use case for Spot once its missions (pre-established routes and actions) are established and operators want to check in to see how / where Spot is.

Smart Industry: What challenges / opportunities are most pressing regarding adoption of robotics in the manufacturing space? 

Ben: In line with my example above, I think the experience of using a robot is a huge part of the adoption challenge within the industry. The easier and more intuitive it is to set up, guide, and check in with robotic assets, the faster robotics will grow. This is why I’ve been so impressed with Spot from the beginning—it’s an amazingly capable, easy-to-use robot that brings the sensors to your assets and reports back to you! The easier this gets, the more Spots you’ll see in the world.