Boston Dynamics creates Muppet-like fur costume for its Spot robot and teaches it to dance

Boston Dynamics creates Muppet-like fur costume for its Spot robot and teaches it to dance

May 3, 2024
What do you get when you combine the playful humanity of Jim Henson with the practical ingenuity of Boston Dynamics?

What do you get when you combine the playful humanity of Jim Henson with the practical ingenuity of Boston Dynamics? You get a sparkling, blue and white robotic dog that can sit, shake, and cut a rug. 

In honor of International Dance Day, Boston Dynamics released a YouTube video of its famous Spot robot performing a short, choreographed routine. That’s not, however, why this video has become so popular. In this 40-second clip, Spot is interacting with a second Spot robot that is decorated with sparkling fur. According to the company, “Spot is meeting another strange dog and making friends through the power of dance. Meet Sparkles! Sparkles is a custom costume designed just for Spot to explore the intersections of robotics, art, and entertainment.”

Ameya Paleja, who covered the introduction of Sparkles for Interesting Engineering, saw the video as a PR move to change public opinion of robotic dogs, which have gained a bad reputation over time. Ameya writes: “The nasty image of robotic dogs wielding dangerous weapons is surely damaging Boston Dynamics’ reputation, and the release with Sparkles would only be seen as some damage control at its end if we did not know better. Who in their right minds would look at this Muppet-like dog and attribute anything sinister to it? Ever!”

Spot has a history of wowing the public with its dance skills. Two years ago, the iconic robot had a dance off with the members of K-pop supergroup BTS. Created to commemorate Boston Dynamics joining the Hyundai Motor Group family, the video depicts seven Spot robots moving in perfect unison to BTS's "IONIQ: I'm On It." Monica Thomas, a professional choreographer and former dancer, was brought in to plan out the dance routine, and Jakob Welner, a robotic movement consultant, animated the dance steps in Autodesk Maya. Finally, the Boston Dynamics team used Choreographer, a Spot software module, to create the dance moves. 

When talking about the process, Eric Whitman, a Boston Dynamics roboticist, said, “There were a lot of challenges around getting the vision of our choreographer, who’s used to dealing with human dancers, into our software. Everything had to be worked out in advance and scripted precisely. Robots have the advantage over humans in that they’re very repeatable: Once you get it right, it stays right. But they have the disadvantage that you have to tell them every little detail. They don’t improvise at all.”

Marc Raibert, founder and chairman of Boston Dynamics, added, “An athletic performance like dance stresses the mechanical design of the robot, and it also stresses the algorithms in the software. If you look at the dance we did, it’s got dozens of different behaviors, so the team had to make tools that allow us to create those behaviors fast enough to do the project in a reasonable amount of time. That’s the practical answer. But for me, this was mostly a way of expressing creativity and having fun.” 
The engineers and programmers at Boston Dynamics documented the process of teaching the robot to dance in a series of blog posts, including “In Step with Spot" and "All Together Now."

To learn more about Spot, read “See Spot inspect assets with condition monitoring tech

About the Author

Alexis Gajewski | Senior Content Strategist

Alexis Gajewski has over 15 years of experience in the maintenance, reliability, operations, and manufacturing space. She joined Plant Services in 2008 and works to bring readers the news, insight, and information they need to make the right decisions for their plants. Alexis also authors “The Lighter Side of Manufacturing,” a blog that highlights the fun and innovative advances in the industrial sector. 

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