Alphabet-owned Boston Dynamics is already responsible for the creation of some mildly sinister robots. We’ve seen the quadrupedal Spot and its little brother, SpotMini, along with several versions of the bipedal humanoid Atlas. But in a leaked video showing the company’s latest creation, the wheeled, upright machine is described as “nightmare-inducing.”
The new robot is called Handle, named after its ability to handle objects. While Boston Dynamics hasn’t yet officially unveiled it, footage of Handle was recently shown off at a presentation for investors by company founder Marc Raibert.
Venture Capitalist Steve Jurvetson uploaded a video containing part of the event to YouTube. In the clip, Raibert recaps previous robots – the SpotMini and second-generation Atlas – before stunning the crowd with footage of Handle.
"This is an experiment in combining wheels with legs with a very dynamic system that is balancing itself all the time and has a lot of knowledge of how to throw its weight, which it uses to stabilize itself. Here we’re just testing out the various capabilities," he said.
Raibert says that Handle is much more efficient than a robot with legs, and is able to carry a heavier load on a small footprint. But those legged machines do have the advantage of being able to operate on uneven terrain (and stairs), whereas Handle works better on smooth surfaces. It did, however, manage to travel down a grassy hill, and demonstrated some acrobatic abilities by jumping over a small wall.
With its self-balancing capability allowing it to move heavy objects, and the fact it seems to have been designed for factory floors, Handle could become Boston Dynamics’ most consumer-friendly robot to date. Alphabet put the firm up for sale last year, reportedly because it didn’t want to spend money on products that “take ten years to develop.” The robotics firm will no doubt be hoping that Handle's potential workplace applications help attract buyers.