Boston Dynamics is an Orphaned Research Project
The U.S. robotics company is perhaps the most advanced developer of legged robots worldwide. But these remain unprofitable and the tradition of knowledge behind the company has diffused out of it.
Founded in 1992, the U.S. company Boston Dynamics is perhaps the most recognizable developer of legged robots that mimic the movements of humans or large mammals. Videos of its advanced robots have gone viral online many times over the last decade: the company’s most-viewed clip on YouTube has 158 million views.1 The company is genuinely a world leader in advancing the state of the art of robotics. But contrary to popular impressions, it is in fact neither profitable nor are any of its robots autonomous, rather requiring human operators. As of 2023, it has sold over 1000 of its Spot quadrupeds, but remains financially unsuccessful overall despite impressive prototypes.2 The company makes for an excellent case study in the medium-term prospects for automation of tasks requiring human-like or animal-like movement.