"BigDog" Walks on any Terrain, Shockingly Creepy Gait (Video)
From an enthusiast's point of view, the Japanese and Koreans have seemed to dominate the modern robotics field in recent times. Honda's ASIMO is world famous, both for walking up, and falling down, flights of stairs, and both nations have displayed the results of highly active academic programs tasked with building increasingly lifelike robots designed to help the elderly and teach children in schools. Such programs are great for public relations, and are key to easing the public's fears of a future in which robots will be ubiquitous and in constant interaction with humans.
America isn't ignoring the developing robotics revolution, but as one might guess, our creations aren't the type that'll be playing with toddlers and finding the TV remote for grandma. Indeed, ours are being designed for fields quite removed from playgrounds, which is to say, the fields of battle. DARPA has been leveraging a serious budget to develop a wide range of technologies that will become part of the Army's Future Combat System, and today, new footage of the product of a $10-million R&D grant and some genius engineering by Boston Dynamics has been released.
The company's BigDog robot is a quadruped platform designed to help ground infantry cover longer distances by carrying a stockpile of their gear, thereby lightening the 60- to 90-pound loads soldiers currently carry on their backs. What makes the BigDog unique, and also quite frightening, is Boston Dynamic's application of biologically-inspired movement, balance, and obstacle avoidance systems that, working together, make the BigDog appear horrifying lifelike as it walks over just about any terrain a human on foot could potentially tackle.
Nothing, it would seem, can unbalance the BigDog, be it a solid kick to the side or a slippery patch of ice or snow. The mannerisms of the BigDog AI's movements in stumbling and then recovering could well be those of a deer's natural instincts, which is a pretty serious advance in relation to the usual robot attitude of falling over and then continuing to try to walk why lying face down.
The newest BigDog prototype shown in the video is significantly improved over previous versions and is now capable of carrying up to 340-pounds of equipment. The bot has also gained the ability to jump, which is also pretty scary looking. There's no word on when final products could be fielded, but some Future Combat Systems are expected to enter service as early as 2012. We expect a Fox special, "When Good BigDogs Go Bad" shortly thereafter, followed by the Great Robot Wars of 2023.
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