Boston Dynamics' creepy robot dog Spot has found another new employer for its unique skillset.
Having previously found work checking out nuclear power plants, probing suspect packages, maintaining social distancing rules during the pandemic and – briefly – working as a police dog in New York before being unceremoniously fired, the headless robohound is now being tapped up by US company Farmers Insurance to assist its agents with property inspections and "in-field catastrophe claims", or assessments in the immediate wake of natural disasters and major events.
The scary but willing cybernetic pooch has been adapted for Farmers' needs, receiving extra equipment to assist it in its new task, adding a 360° camera, site documentation software, and a new blue paintjob over its regular yellow-and-black-clad headless chassis.
The insurer's new best friend has also been equipped with a frankly terrifying extendable robot arm attachment, which makes it resemble a miniature, tailless sauropod and will cause it to doubtless occupy the nightmares of readers for weeks to come.
While robot deployments invariably come down to money, with the tech being used to reduce the number of human beings that need to be paid to do a given job, the deployment of Spot robots in a post-disaster environment makes sense. The devastation following a hurricane, flood, major fire or other serious emergency can leave secondary services such as insurance stretched beyond capacity, with a limited number of agents having to process potentially thousands of claims over a wide area affected by infrastructure damage, road closures, and other hazards.
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As Farmers itself explained in a statement: "The robot's agility, advanced mobility, and perception to navigate various rough terrain will allow it to access spaces and environments inaccessible for claims employees... to help reduce the time required to capture data and augment the in-field claims review process."
While Farmers is currently planning to employ the Spotbots only in a limited number of situations, it is considering expanding usage if it proves to be a success.
"The robot may be utilised to handle non-catastrophic events such as structure fires, collapsed structures, water loss, or other potentially hazardous environments in the future," it explained.
The expansive insurance company also sought to quell any fears flesh bags may have had about how dedicated the decollated quadrupeds may be to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics by floating the idea of using them to assist first responders to major disasters and other serious incidents, fulfilling one of the machine's early touted possible roles as a search-and-rescue tool.
"Farmers will explore applications that could help first-responder organizations during scenarios such as post-event search and rescue operations, accessing areas to assess danger for first responders or others, and/or pre-inspections to assess safety for anyone in the general vicinity," it said.
The introduction of sexy new robots into the unglamorous world of insurance will certainly add an element of cutting-edge, high-tech, buccaneering excitement to the industry, suggesting that Farmers may soon break free from the rigid constraints of its traditional area of expertise, Crimson Permanent Assurance-style. But it remains to be seen if the robots work in the environments they are being asked to negotiate.
While units like Spot could be helpful assessing structures and properties, they will be more trouble than they are worth to hard-pressed assessors if they get stuck, broken or flooded and have to be retrieved every time they are sent out in a post-disaster situation. ®