Boston Dynamics suing Ghost Robotics over quadruped design

Boston Dynamics’ Spot (left) and Ghost Robotics’ Vision 60.

Boston Dynamics is suing competitor Ghost Robotics for patent infringement. Boston Dynamics claims Ghost Robotics infringed on seven patents related to its Spot quadruped robot. According to the complaint (PDF) filed in Delaware federal court, Boston Dynamics said Ghost Robotics’ Vision 60 and Spirit 40 quadrupeds both contain infringing capabilities.

“We do not comment on the specifics of pending litigation,” a Boston Dynamics spokesperson told The Robot Report via email. “Innovation is the lifeblood of Boston Dynamics, and our roboticists have successfully filed approximately 500 patents and patent applications worldwide. We welcome competition in the emerging mobile robotics market, but we expect all companies to respect intellectual property rights, and we will take action when those rights are violated.”

The Robot Report reached out to Ghost Robotics but had not heard back at press time. This article will be updated if new information is learned. News of the lawsuit was first reported by Law 360.

Boston Dynamics is seeking infringement damages and pre- and post-judgment interest. It claims Ghost Robotics is infringing on the following U.S. patents:

9,308,648 — “Systems and Methods for Robotic Self-Right”
9,662,791 — “Systems and Methods for Robotic Self-Right”
11,123,869 — “Robotically Negotiating Stairs”
9,387,588 — “Handling Gait Disturbances with Asynchronous Timing”
11,073,842 — “Perception and Fitting for a Stair Tracker”
10,253,855 — “Screw Actuator for a Legged Robot”
11,131,368 — “Screw Actuator for a Legged Robot”

In the complaint, Boston Dynamics included photos of Ghost Robotics quadrupeds being tested by the U.S. Air Force in 2020 and 2021 at Nellis base in Nevada. The complaint goes into great detail about how Ghost Robotics is allegedly infringing on each of the aforementioned patents.

“Defendant has deliberately continued to infringe in a wanton, malicious, and egregious manner, with reckless disregard for Boston Dynamics’ patent rights,” Boston Dynamics said in the complaint.

Boston Dynamics was founded by Marc Raibert in 1992 as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It’s been working on quadruped robots for about two decades, having tested its BigDog robot in 2004. BigDog was discontinued around 2015, partly due to its gas-powered engine being too loud. Essentially, Spot evolved from BigDog and the years of research Boston Dynamics put into quadrupeds. Boston Dynamics commercially released Spot in 2020 to serve various industries.

According to the filing, Boston Dynamics said Ghost Robotics introduced its Vision 60 product in 2019, later introducing the Spirit 40 model in February 2020. On July 7, 2020, according to the filing, Boston Dynamics wrote to Ghost Robotics requesting it review Boston Dynamics’ published patent applications and issued patents to ensure that Ghost Robotics did not infringe Boston Dynamics’ patent rights, particularly referencing the Ghost Robotics Vision 60 product. Ghost Robotics was founded in 2015.

Boston Dynamics, the filing said, then sent two cease and desist letters asking Ghost Robotics to stop marketing its quadrupeds. According to the filing, the letters referenced multiple patents Boston Dynamics claimed Ghost Robotics was infringing on.

According to the complaint, “Boston Dynamics’ early success with the Spot robot did not go unnoticed by competitors in the robotics industry, including Ghost Robotics.” Other quadruped makers include ANYbotics (Switzerland) and Unitree Robotics (China).

In May 2022, Boston Dynamics released upgrades for Spot that included faster charging times, more payloads and support for 5G connectivity. Boston Dynamics won an RBR50 Robotics Innovation Award from The Robot Report‘s sister publication Robotics Business Review. Boston Dynamics won the award for the introduction of Spot Enterprise, a previously upgraded version of the quadruped that offered expanded capabilities and allowed for new classes of applications for the robot.

Boston Dynamics also recently commercialized Stretch, a mobile robot for case handling and truck unloading. With a powerful vacuum gripper and advanced vision system, Stretch can handle a variety of package types up to 50 pounds, requires no SKU number pre-programming or box size information and can autonomously recover any packages that shift or fall during the unloading process. Boston Dynamics recently said Stretch is sold out for 2022 installations. Boston Dynamics has a number of early customers, including DHL Supply Chain, GAP, H&M, and Performance Team – A Maersk Company.

Hyundai Motor Group, which acquired Boston Dynamics in June 2021 for $880 million, recently launched the Boston Dynamics AI Institute. Hyundai and Boston Dynamics made an initial investment of more than $400 million to make fundamental advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and intelligent machines. The institute will be led by Raibert. The institute will work on four technical areas: cognitive AI, athletic AI, organic hardware design and ethics and policy.

Hyundai became the third owner of Boston Dynamics in seven years. Boston Dynamics was acquired by Google in 2013 and sold to Softbank Group in 2017. It has mainly operated as an R&D organization since it was founded, but a new emphasis on commercialization became evident after it was acquired by Softbank.

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