creepy 4-legged robot

Robotic 'pack mule' displays stunning reflexes
A nimble, four-legged robot is so surefooted it can recover its balance even after being given a hefty kick. The machine, which moves like a cross between a goat and a pantomime horse, is being developed as a robotic pack mule for the US military.

"Internal force sensors detect the ground variations and compensate for them," says company president and project manager Marc Raibert. "And BigDog's active balance allows it to maintain stability when we disturb it."

Raibert says the latest version of BigDog can handle slopes of 35° -- a steeper gradient than one in two. The hydraulics are driven by a two-stroke single-cylinder petrol engine, and it can carry over 40 kg, about 30% of its bodyweight. The robot can follow a simple path on its own, or can be remotely controlled.

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32 Responses:

  1. dmlaenker says:

    It's so damn loud....

  2. xenogram says:

    But is it better than an actual mule. Or is it a license for military contractors to print money?

    • 33mhz says:

      Am I missing something, or did they not already have one?

    • down8 says:

      I would say it has obvious advantages to a real mule. It doesn't eat (well not food, which has to be maintained vs. fuel, which just has to be contained). It doesn't crap (no messes, no poop trails to be followed). It won't make noise when it's not moving (won't get ppl sniped via misplased "hee-haw!"). And, lastly, an army of them would freak the hell out of opposing forces (vs. a mule which would undermine our technical prowess).

      The real question is: why would the military need a pack mule in 2006+? Wouldn't some sort of anti-grav/hovering vehicle be more useful?

      Such a creepy video.


      • xenogram says:

        The US army is currently using mules in the mountains of Afganistan.

        This would seem to defeat the purpose of using mules at all. It's loud (see above), needs to carry fuel with it (mules can be expected to live off the land at least some of the time), needs the services of robotics engineers to maintain it, needs to be flown in from the United States, is stupider than a mule, carries less, and is much more expensive. All in all it would need an extensive logistical train, and wouldn't be as effective.

        You couldn't write comedy like this. Much as I approve of robotics researches getting grants, the suggested practical applications of this thing just seem silly at this point.

  3. frandroid says:

    Another thing too? It's fucking creepy. Way to freak the locals out with your weird human leg-looking robot...

  4. ralesk says:

    Is this Star Wars?

  5. baconmonkey says:

    it looks like 2 people bent at the waits engaging ina shoving match.

    also, I think we all know the real reason for this.

  6. jered says:

    Boston Dynamics is very cool; they're one of those places that's an academic spin-off that stays academic. (They're from the Leg Lab in the MIT AI Lab.)

    Back a few years ago when I still had an 8" blond mohawk, Marc Raibert randomly stopped me and asked if he could take some pictures of me. The reason for this was so they could include me as a model in their DI-Guy scenario product. (See website.)

    More than once since then I've been stopped at a party with a story along the lines of, "I was watching this product demo, and then suddenly I saw you taking a hostage and people shooting at you!"

    • tfofurn says:

      Whoa . . . DI-Guy is endorsed by my undergrad advisor. That's almost as creepy as the video. Now I really want to know what direction his research has taken—did he add pedestrians to his driving simulators?

  7. That's a bizarro coincidence - I interviewed at that place in August, and saw the robot in person - it was mostly built, and just trudging around the top floor of this office, it was very surreal.

  8. wyndebreaker says:

    This kind of stuff isn't that new. Real Time feedboack has been used for things like the classic Inverted Pendulum (WMV video)

    Those pant legs sure make it look creepy though.

    • skreidle says:

      There's a long, long way between simple inverted pendulums and 4-jointed-legged stability. :) (Hell, I've programmed a simple inverted pendulum stabilizer.)

      Now, an inverted jointed (and freely rotating) pendulum--damn near impossible, but doable.

    • jwz says:

      Wow, that's awesome!

  9. romulusnr says:

    YMTS "I for one welcome our untoppleable weight-bearing robotic quadruped overlords".

  10. skreidle says:

    Am I the only one suddenly reminded ofM.U.L.E.?

  11. mattraibert says:

    Ok, this is kind of surreal.

  12. greatbiggary says:

    Wow. Throw a robot jockey on that thing, maybe a shotgun, and make enough for teams, and I give up. I can't think of something more awesome at the moment.

    I'm still surprised they didn't saddle a small child on there for sake of science, but it does occur to me that as-is, these would be a great mid-range deterrent to all enemies with bee allergies. I wanna surf one.

  13. Cool, but noisy. I guess a benefit of this to those of us who aren't in the killing business is that it could spur the development of fuel cell technology.

  14. Now all I have to do is catch the mountain wampus so I can buy another one to corner the energy market.