Hyundai has officially completed its acquisition of Boston Dynamics, the creator of the internet’s favorite dancing Spot and Atlas robots (which only occasionally look like dystopian nightmare machines). And to celebrate, the company is collaborating with K-pop sensation BTS on a new video that shows seven Spot robots grooving to the band’s 2020 song “IONIQ: I’m On It.”
And while Spot’s smooth dance moves might bring a frisson of worry to any K-pop fans thinking that K-pop boy-bands might be the next industry that Boston Dynamics is targeting for its robots to replace human workers in, right now it seems that BTS isn’t too worried about the competition. A second video shows off the band celebrating the Hyundai acquisition alongside a Spot robot, and both boy band and bot come together for a brief dance-off.
In a behind-the-scenes blog post, the company details how it pulled off the longer, coordinated dance routine, which involved incredibly precise programming (rather than using the robot’s built-in sensors or obstacle avoidance algorithms that Spot usually uses to get around and accomplish tasks). “Everything had to be worked out in advance and scripted precisely,” explains Eric Whitman, a Boston Dynamics roboticist. The company also worked again with Monica Thomas, the professional choreographer who the company worked with on its previous dancing robot videos, to plan out Spot’s dance moves.
“An athletic performance like dance stresses the mechanical design of the robot, and it also stresses the algorithms in the software,” says Marc Raibert, founder and chairman of Boston Dynamics, in an explanation as to why the company keeps making these videos. Raibert also notes that the dance routines force the company to create new tools to program the robots, like the “Choreographer” software used here — software that’s since been publicly released and is already being used by other Boston Dynamics Spot owners for entertainment purposes.
That hits on the second reason for the videos, which Raibert doesn’t touch on: they’re incredibly popular online. The company’s last dancing video has over 32 million videos on YouTube, and a collaboration with BTS, one of the most popular bands on the planet with an extremely active fan base, is almost guaranteed to put up even better numbers. And given the fact that Boston Dynamics is actually trying to get companies to buy Spot robots — to the tune of $74,500 each — it’s easy to see why it’d want to get the word out.
The dancing videos also help to show off the fun, playful side of the Spot robots, cementing them in the public mind as cute dancing machines, rather than the more controversial real-world uses in which the robots have been deployed. That includes things like NYPD’s since-ended tests of Spot robots, or the recent use of Spot robots in simulated military exercises in France for reconnaissance work.