When Hyundai acquired Boston Dynamics at the end of 2020, there were plenty of open questions. Chief among them was why we should assume this acquisition would be any different than the past few? The 30-year-old bleeding-edge robotics firm had been an uncomfortable fit for its last two owners, Google and SoftBank, but the Korean automotive giant insisted things would be different.
The pairing has, thus far, been something of a mixed bag. As Boston Dynamics looks to pragmatic applications to commercialize robots like Spot and Stretch, Hyundai has used the technology for some wild sci-fi demos, including one at this year’s CES featuring Spot hanging out on Mars as a metaverse avatar.
This morning, the company announced that the robotics firm will form the foundations of the Boston Dynamics AI Institute, which aims to advance research in artificial intelligence and robotics. Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Kendall Square, the institute will be led by Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert, who transitioned away from the CEO role at the end of 2019, leaving longtime COO Rob Playter to take the reins.
Research has long been a foundational part of what Boston Dynamics does, a tradition that has continued after it began working toward commercializing its technology. It’s also a big piece of what Raibert, a former professor at MIT and CMU, has focused on during his three decades with the company.
"Our mission is to create future generations of advanced robots and intelligent machines that are smarter, more agile, perceptive and safer than anything that exists today," Raibert said in a release tied to the news. "The unique structure of the Institute — top talent focused on fundamental solutions with sustained funding and excellent technical support — will help us create robots that are easier to use, more productive, able to perform a wider variety of tasks, and that are safer working with people."
The institute’s launch is being funded by a roughly $400 million investment. Hyundai notes that they’re actively hiring researchers and engineers -- certainly placing it in Cambridge, within walking distance of some of the world’s leading research institutes, makes sense. Ford, similarly, has been operating its own robotics research facility in conjunction with the University of Michigan.