This Tech Company’s Robots Have Brought Internet Fame—But No Fortune

Boston Dynamics' AI creations are a social media phenomenon, but how who will buy them?

Boston Dynamics' Big Dog prototypes (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Boston Dynamics' Big Dog prototypes (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Boston Dynamics was founded 26 years ago, and since then it has been churning out incredible robot creatures that can walk, spin, flip, climb stairs, jump on tables, and even open doors. Profits, on the other hand, have not been so easy to manufacture.

If you’ve been online at all in the past few years, it’s almost a guarantee you’ve seen someone share a video of one of Boston Dynamics’ latest inventions. Each one seems to demonstrate a breakthrough in robotic ability, whether its a “parkour robot” that can speed over uneven terrain and spin on a dime, a dog robot that can open a doorknob, or its Atlas humanoid robot that can leap and flip like an Olympic gymnast.

But in a New York Times profile of the company, the newspaper asks what, if anything, this Internet notoriety has translated into revenue-wise. Is anyone actually interested in buying these robot creations?

Inspired by the potential for automation and artificial intelligence, Google acquired the robotics company in 2013. But only four years later, the tech giant sold Boston Dynamics to the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank for an undisclosed sum.

The reasons behind Google’s divestiture might be found in the Times report. In its behind-the-scenes look at the Boston Dynamics lab, the newspaper witnessed the human operators who remotely control the company’s robots, but who are mostly hidden in its viral videos. That the company’s robots are not shown on videos failing—as they often do—in their assigned tasks, and that they don’t rely on artificial intelligence, could be two key factors why the robot revolution is still a long ways away.



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