Has SpaceX replaced one of their robotic dogs?

Since SpaceX first acquired a Boston Dynamics Spot robot last year, they have served as vital tools for inspecting areas where it is not safe for humans to be located. During my recent trip to Boca Chica, I noticed that something had changed on SpaceX’s first robotic dog, Zeus.

Spot Enterprise VS Spot Explorer

When Zeus first arrived in Boca Chica, the Explorer version was the only version of Boston Dynamics Spot robot on the market. In February of this year, Boston Dynamics revealed a new Spot, the Enterprise version. While the Explorer version of Spot is very capable, the Enterprise version adds important functionality. Explorer was limited to auto walk missions of 1km in length, while the Enterprise does not have a limit. The Enterprise version also provides more control over what data is sent back to Boston Dynamics. This new version also includes upgraded wifi, but the biggest upgrade by far is the ability to use the Spot Dock.

Spot Enterprise on Spot Dock. Credit: Boston Dynamics

The Spot dock allows the robot to autonomously return to position and charge itself while simultaneously offloading data over gigabit ethernet. To enable this, the Spot Enterprise uses an updated battery, the Battery+. The new Battery+ features a new black casing, rather than the yellow of the original battery, and has an external heatsink. The Enterprise Spot also has two ports on the bottom to assist with alignment as the Spot lowers itself into position. These two ports are clearly visible in the unveiling video. For comparison, at the front and at the back of the Spot Explorer, there are two raised sections.

SpaceX’s Spot Robots Zeus and Apollo

When I visited Boca Chica for SN15, I noticed that both of SpaceX’s Spot robots, Zeus and Apollo, have the black, Battery+, as seen in this photo. Looking back at photos from when Zeus first arrived, the battery pack was yellow, as was expected for the Spot Explorer unit, the only Spot available at the time.

Given this change and no public acknowledgment by Boston Dynamics at the time whether Spot Battery+ was compatible with the Spot Explorer unit, I reached out to Boston Dynamics last week, but have received no comment. I’m also not the first person to capture photos of the black battery on Zeus. Austin Barnard captured a photo showing the black battery back in March. I decided to look further, to figure out which Spot model Zeus and Apollo are. Both Zeus and Apollo were being filmed walking around the launch site. In one of my photos, Apollo leaned back for the camera, revealing its underside and the two ports that exist on the Spot Enterprise unit.

Apollo sits back for a Drone shot. Credit: Derek Wise

Zeus did not lean back for the camera, but, a few minutes later he did fall down, revealing his underside to the camera.

At this point, I was wondering if this specific Spot robot really is Zeus, but sure enough, the name Zeus is written in front of the camera, just like on Apollo. I did not see the names of either Zeus or Apollo with my naked eye from across the street, but the photos confirmed that these two robots are Zeus and Apollo and that they seem to be Enterprise units.

Zeus written on the robot. Credit: Derek Wise

More questions than answers

Knowing that Zeus and Apollo have the Spot Enterprise hardware makes sense for SpaceX’s applications. It will allow them to inspect Starships even in the event that a malfunction makes it impossible for SpaceX employees to be on location. The Spot can go inspect the wreckage, return to charge, and then go out again, even if major issues prevent crews from returning to the pad for days at a time.

When I reached out to Boston Dynamics, I asked if any customers had access to the Spot Enterprise before the announcement, but without an answer, we are left with a few possibilities. SpaceX may have had early access to the Enterprise version, eight months before release. Given that Zeus was first photographed last summer with the yellow battery, incompatible with the Spot Dock, makes me believe that is unlikely. SpaceX may have had Boston Dynamics upgrade their Zeus from a Spot Explorer to a Spot Enterprise. As of now, we don’t know whether or not it is even possible to upgrade the Spot hardware in this way. Another option, and the one I believe is most likely, is that Zeus has been replaced. I think it is likely that SpaceX saw the benefit of the Enterprise version of Spot, and decided to replace the Explorer units. Another question is, if Zeus has been replaced, what happened to the original Spot Explorer? One final possibility is that Boston Dynamics implemented these features at the request of SpaceX. SpaceX may have had a beta version of the hardware and software that included this Spot Dock support, then once the design of the Spot Battery+ was finalized they started using those batteries.

If you have up-close photos of the underside of Zeus from last year, to help confirm if Zeus was replaced, or what exactly occurred, reach out! I can be contacted through social media or at derek@spaceexplored.com. I will be updating the article with any new information and I’m willing to keep sources anonymous.

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