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Trends in Robotics
Margarita Spot demonstrates the flexibility and ease of developing new custom payloads for Spot.
Spot is more than a mobile robot; it’s a mobile sensing platform that developers can customize with software, sensors, and other hardware payloads to achieve exactly what they need for specific applications. Whether it’s building the tools to explore other planets or to inspect worksites, the ability to easily build on Spot’s base functionality has huge real-world value.
This flexibility also opens up opportunities for more creative applications. For example, Spot has a storied history with alcoholic beverages, from inspecting breweries to doing other activities with beer. But before all that, there was Margarita Spot: an internal project developing a Spot payload that blends the perfect margarita.
We sat down with Devin Billings and Max von der Heydt, the engineers who created Margarita Spot, to chat about why they built it, how it works, and what we can learn from this example.
Margarita Spot is basically what you would expect from the name. It’s a custom payload that adds a Margaritaville® drink machine to Spot. You add the ingredients and Spot does the rest—crushing ice, blending the mix, and delivering a mobile margarita.
Through the payload API, we programmed the settings for the drink machine, as well as custom configuration for Spot’s balance and behavior when it’s in use. When you fire the blender up, Spot does a little shimmy and shake to really mix up the margarita. Then Spot sits with the motors off so you can safely collect and serve your drinks.
Margarita Spot made its initial debut at a company celebration and continues to appear at internal events. Especially after the last year, people are looking for reasons to come together and Spot can bring a lot of joy. People are always excited to see Margarita Spot and get the party started.
Coincidently, Max happened to have a portable margarita machine with a broken battery, which offered a great opportunity for a design validation experiment to see if we had enough power. And the project took off from there.
One engineer suggested a blender—that the payload port be powerful enough to crush ice. At the time it was mostly a joke, but ultimately we did establish that Spot should provide about 300W of electrical power to it’s payload ports—in the range of an average blender.
This project started out pretty ad hoc, fueled by enthusiasm more than anything else. From an engineering perspective, Margarita Spot is pretty straightforward. Devin tuned the regulator on the power converter board from 12V to 18V to run the margarita machine, while Max 3D-printed a custom mount to attach it to Spot’s payload rails. There weren’t any major surprises, but we were all impressed with how well Spot maintained balance with a full sloshing container on its back.
The payloads team recently refreshed the application to make it neater and more robust. For example, we cleaned up the power and electronics, so it’s all contained in the drink machine’s original battery pack.
Margarita Spot was only intended as an application experiment, not a deployable solution. But more broadly, it demonstrates that Spot is a customizable platform users can get creative with. Customers can easily integrate their preferred sensors or software using the API—building on or streamlining their existing processes with Spot, rather than reinventing the wheel.
This flexibility is key for a lot of customers developing more practical applications. One real-world example is Brasfield & Gorrie. Working with DroneDeploy, one of their long-term partners, they integrated custom cameras, hardware, and software via the API to create an end-to-end workflow for capturing, processing, and analyzing 360° site data. Automating this process with Spot frees up their site managers for more valuable work and delivers more precise, frequent data into their documentation software.
To learn more about developing custom Spot payloads, watch our on-demand webinar. See how Spot’s accessible API enables developers to add their preferred cameras and sensors, autonomously trigger those sensors and send data to analysis software, and create unique controls and autonomy systems for the robot. And as always, robot responsibly.
Note from our legal bots: Spot is an amazing robot, but its safe use depends upon your compliance with its documentation. It is not intended for in-home use or use near children or others who may not appreciate the hazards associated with its operation, except as the documentation provides.
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