Alphabet subsidiary Boston Dynamics doesn’t have much to prove when it comes to producing the robots of your nightmares. Previous iterations of the company’s prototypes have been kicked over by humans only to stand right back up, for example. But at an event this week, founder Marc Raibert managed to unveil something simultaneously more unsettling and technologically impressive.
Going by the name of Handle, the new bot features both legs and wheels. The creation, captured on video by DFJ’s Steve Jurvetson, is said to be more efficient than a purely legged robot. Even with a small footprint, large loads don’t seem to be a problem for the robot. Its ability to “handle” objects is where the inspiration for its name originated.
A combination of hardware and software enable the robot to balance itself and throw its weight around, even when rotating rapidly on wheels. It can even jump over objects. In the video above, at about 4:15, you can see Handle extend its arms during an extended spin for balance.
The move could signal a push from Boston Dynamics to focus more on reducing the costs of its prototypes. Alphabet reportedly tried to sell Boston Dynamics last spring and Toyota and Amazon were rumored to be suiters. Last week, TechCrunch reported that Alphabet was in talks to sell its Terra Bella satellite unit to Planet Labs.
All of this signals a push by Alphabet to commercialize its moonshots or see them off into the sunset. Handle doesn’t seem to be market ready yet, but the shift from anthropomorphism to pragmatism is welcome news for anyone hoping Boston Dynamics shows enough revenue potential to remain under the Alphabet umbrella.