Hyundai and Boston Dynamics to Launch AI Institute

·3 min read
Photo credit: Boston Dynamics
Photo credit: Boston Dynamics
  • Hyundai Motor Group and Boston Dynamics will create AI Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to focus on robotic challenges, spanning fields like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and engineering.

  • The companies will invest $400 million in the institute, which will partner with corporate research labs and universities.

  • A number of other automakers have invested money in robots, most recently Tesla, which plans to unveil its Optimus humanoid robot this year.

At first blush Hyundai's purchase of Boston Dynamics in 2020 seemed like an unlikely fit, with the automaker staking a company that was almost exclusively into robots. And not only humanoid robots, but robots shaped like just about every type of animal. The Massachusetts startup gained plenty of publicity over the years through its viral videos of its Neill Blomkamp-style robots doing increasingly unnerving things, from parkour to impersonating livestock, with many observers predicting some kind of eventual (and inevitable) transition into military robots, akin to AMEE from Red Planet.

Boston Dynamics' addition to an automaker's lineup of brands did not seem like a natural fit... unless one recalls that Honda had spent years and untold sums on the humanoid robot ASIMO, and that Tesla is currently weeks away from unveiling its Optimus robot (if we take Tesla's word for it, as actual product and timing may vary greatly).

Hyundai's purchase of Boston Dynamics now seems more forward thinking than just a short time ago, and not just because military drones of all types are in the news quite a bit.

The automaker underscored its commitment to robots and artificial intelligence this week by announcing a $400 million investment in the creation of a new institute, which will be based in Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just over the river from the center of Boston. The institute is described as a research-first organization that will focus on challenges in the development of robots, spanning fields like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and engineering.

"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," said Marc Raibert, who will serve as the executive director of Boston Dynamics AI Institute.

Photo credit: Boston Dynamics
Photo credit: Boston Dynamics

Hyundai hints that the institute's culture will combine the best aspects of corporate development labs and university research labs, all while working in the four main areas: organic hardware design, cognitive AI, athletic AI, and (last but not least) ethics and policy. The institute plans to invest resources in the first three of these core technical areas, in addition to teaming up with corporate research labs and universities.

We think we know what you're thinking: Will the institute be more like Omni Consumer Products or Cyberdyne Systems?

"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," Raibert added.

The automotive industry has largely realized that AI could play a key role in the development of advanced autonomous driving systems, though Boston Dynamics has traditionally steered clear of that particular research direction. Perhaps the work of the AI Institute will pull the two companies into related fields, ones more closely related to autonomous vehicle development, given that AI is now seen as the key to getting to Level 5 autonomy.

Are humanoid robots a worthwhile direction for automakers to pursue? Let us know in the comments below.