The Boston Dynamics robot has learned how to open doors

(Image credit: Boston Dynamics)

Just two months ago, Boston Dynamics showed off its somersaulting robot, capable of backflipping and recovering from falls. 

The company's newest robotics trick is less flashy, but more disturbing for fans of sci-fi apocalypses and Jurassic Park: the robots can now open doors.

Back when the SpotMini was first introduced in 2016, before Google sold Boston Dynamics to Japanese company SoftBank, the warning signs of the robots’ dangerous abilities were already in place. Boston Dynamics lulled us into a false sense of security by using SpotMini’s arm to wash dishes, making it look subservient to humanity. 

Now, outfitted with a sleek new body and an upgraded arm and clamp, SpotMini can use its arm to open doors, then adjust itself to hold the door open with its body while its armless compatriots march through towards probably-nefarious purposes.

Think we’re being paranoid? Remember that as early as 2015, Boston Dynamics’ robots were being trained in combat by US Marines. The following year, the company went viral when it released a video of the Spot robot getting kicked over and over. It learned how to survive those attacks on its feet, showing that, in hand-to-hand combat, the robots could hold their ground.

No barrier between us and Skynet

Obviously, we’re just having fun with this news, and most of the proclamations that we’re doomed are tongue-in-cheek. But as we’ve discussed before about potential robot-human friendships, we are naturally repulsed when we see artificial beings that appear too human in nature. 

Based on people’s reactions to Boston Dynamics’ videos, that includes robots that aren’t human, but that perform human-like actions. 

What we find especially exciting about this news isn’t the impressive programming necessary to make the claw arm physically open a door; it’s that the robots are trained to recognize doors and door handles. (That’s assuming this wasn’t remote controlled from off-camera).

If personal robots can intelligently recognize their surroundings and navigate through different environments, not just a controlled lab, it’ll take us that much closer to having commercial assistant robots that won’t just smash into things or get trapped in a cupboard.

And, yes, that much closer to our robot overlords taking over. For now, thankfully, that’s still a ways off.

Michael Hicks

Michael Hicks began his freelance writing career with TechRadar in 2016, covering emerging tech like VR and self-driving cars. Nowadays, he works as a staff editor for Android Central, but still writes occasional TR reviews, how-tos and explainers on phones, tablets, smart home devices, and other tech.