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Robotics The Military Hardware

New BigDog Robot Video 193

Posted by kdawson
from the now-to-work-on-the-muffler dept.
John860 writes "The US company Boston Dynamics has released an amazing new video of its quadruped robot BigDog. The highlight of the video (at 1:24) shows how the robot starts slipping on ice, almost falls several times, but finally regains its balance and continues walking. The video also shows the robot's ability to cope with different types of terrains, climb and descend steep slopes, and jump. Two years ago, the older version of BigDog was already able to climb slopes, keep its balance after a strong kick, and walk on rough terrain like stones, mud, and snow. The new version weighs 235 lbs and can carry a payload of up to 340 lbs, a factor of 4 better than its predecessor."
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New BigDog Robot Video

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  • sorry (Score:5, Funny)

    by User 956 (568564) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @03:02AM (#22792708) Homepage
    The US company Boston Dynamics has released an amazing new video of its quadruped robot

    The walking motion is much like a goat. A goat, see?
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @03:06AM (#22792728)
    Hafez, you get the shipment of Korans from Amazon yet?

    Yeah, but it was delivered by this weird mechanical goat thing that buzzed like a swarm of bees in a poppy field.

    Hmm. I believe my RealGoat delivery has arrived! Allahu Ackbar!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hal_Porter (817932)
      Did you ever see a BBC documentary on putting explosives inside animals? As you can probably expect, spooks experimented on it during the cold war. Partly it was because the Russians trained dogs to sleep under warm tanks, loaded them up with exposives and sent them toward the German lines in World War II. The US/UK were quite reasonably concerned that a "explosive dog gap" might open with the Communists, so they poured money into research.

      My favourite part was where some scientist enthused that "you can fi
      • Been done, sorta. During WW2 the Allies trained german shepards to run toward and lay under tanks while carrying a doggie backpack, then took them into battle and strapped explosives to them.
  • Kick (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tsa (15680)
    I saw the video a few days ago. The most impressive part for me was when this guy kicked the machine, and it struggled to find its (not it's, you misspellers!) balance back. Look at the legs go! It looks so real it's (it is) amazing! The part where it climbed the rubble was also impressive. It looks like the thing has eyes that it uses to find out where it should put its feet.
    • by pembo13 (770295)

      It looks so real it's (it is) amazing!

      I don't think anyone was calling FAKE and claiming that it was CGI, so yes... it is real. More seriously though, I think they are saying dog just because of the conotations it brings, its movements don't seem very dog like to me, they match that of some other four-legged mammals more closely I think.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        The rear limbs are a bit dog-like, but the forelimbs are the same only turned the other way around. That's why it doesn't seem doglike to me.

        If you took two dogs and strapped them together, facing each other, with their forelimbs in the air and only their rear limbs on the ground... and made them telepathic... they might move a bit like that!

        I find the part where it slips on the ice particularly impressive - although BigDog seemed to come perilously close to a broken limb in the incident! I think most human
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by 0111 1110 (518466)

          if you took two dogs and strapped them together, facing each other, with their forelimbs in the air and only their rear limbs on the ground... and made them telepathic... they might move a bit like that!

          The first time I saw this Boston Robotics thing (the earlier version), I had no context for the video clip, nothing to tell me it was a robot. So it reeaally creeped me out big time. And the loud engine actually made it even more scary. I thought maybe it was some sick, brutal, military experiment in commanding a real, but mutilated animal, a hybrid dog-machine, like those experiments being done with rats. Has anyone else here seen No Telling [imdb.com]? I suspect that if I hadn't seen that movie I might not have bee

      • To me, it sometimes looked like a dog, sometimes like a horse, sometimes like a spider, and sometimes like two guys in a pantomime cow costume.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by kd4zqe (587495)
        Some people might be calling shenanigans because there are sections of the video that are accelerated for time and look a little weird. As far as the robot's movements, I see more in common with the gait of a deer or other ungulates. There also seems to be a bit of a learning curve on new terrain that simulates a newborn fawn or horse when attempting to find footing for the first time. They've done a remarkable job simulating these natural aspects or quadrapeds.

        As for the dog reference, it could be a play
    • Re:Kick (Score:5, Funny)

      by RuBLed (995686) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @03:36AM (#22792866)
      I highly doubt that it's very real.. You see, I would kick our dog right now like that.. there!.. his true reaction wou3eim em,,yuktie2;'36+ .0
      • by tsa (15680)
        That made me laugh out loud! I'm still grinning :)
      • Re:Kick (Score:5, Funny)

        by Hal_Porter (817932) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @04:33AM (#22793054)
        Maybe the combat versions come with a Lunge and Bite Service Pack that corrects the "Unexpected Response to Kick" bug.

        The civillian versions will be all plush and lovable (though huge) until some glitch reenables the combat subroutine. Lone cop and beautiful female computer scientist will then need to fight their way to the Mans' Best Friend central computer to press the reset button. One of the dogs will stay loyal and help them, the rest (with glowing red eyes, to tell the slower audience members that they are Evil) will terrorise the population.

        Joe Dante will direct "Mans' Best Friend" (working title "Pastiche 3") of course, from a novel by Steven King. The cast will all be scientologists and there will be a few references to engrams and so on in the script, or maybe just adlibbed in. The movie will start with Eisenhower's speech about the Military Industrial complex and then cut to something ironic, like a weapons factory stripping the weapons off a giant robot dog endoskeleton, wrapping it in plush fur and loading it into a box labelled "Mans' Best Friend".
  • Creepy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @03:31AM (#22792836)
    Is anyone else creeped out by how natural the movements of this robot are? Maybe it's the lack of a head and the ominous buzz-of-death, I don't know. As I recall, there's some theoretical curve for robots where the human acceptance of a robot dramatically drops at a sweet spot as reality is approached and doesn't rise until reality is achieved. This robot definitely falls in that zone for me.
    • Re:Creepy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by lendude (620139) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @03:41AM (#22792876)
      I found the anthropomorphic factor of this robot thru' the roof, mostly I think because of its movement characteristics. It immediately reminded me of an old German Shepard once in our family, particularly the sequence on ice when it badly slipped: it looked exactly like our poor old shep when his back legs went on him. Man, I almost shed a tear at that point of the vid!

      They may have to think about toning this aspect down for war time scenarios - I can well imagine soldiers going to 'old yella's' assistance when he comes under fire!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Gabest (852807)
      Yes it's so real, but what still bothers me is the constant/fast step rate. If I were climbing a hill or walked on ice I would spend varying ammount of time to look for safe spots on the ground, and perhaps test them a bit before fully putting my weight on my feet.
      • by mike2R (721965)
        Near the end of the video they have it climbing over some rubble, and it goes much more cautiously there, so it seems that they have implemented a more cautious mode. Interestingly it goes much slower there than a human would - presumably since a human would be using vision to a great extent to find likely spots to place their feet, while the robot is relying purely on feedback from previous attempts to find a footing.
      • Did you watch it climb the concrete block pile? It was very selective... trying several locations before putting it's weight down. Very impressive.

        OTOH I actually thought it took too much time. It's a robot and shouldn't be so worried about turning an ankle... just climb the damn hill already.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by maxume (22995)
        If you are walking across icy ground(so not water with ice of varying thickness), the key is to move at a constant pace that keeps you in the static friction regime. If you go too fast, you will start sliding, and if you go too slow, you spend all day going two feet, but if you keep a medium pace, you can make decent progress without losing your balance.
    • Re:Creepy (Score:5, Informative)

      by jawtheshark (198669) * <slashdot@nosPAm.jawtheshark.com> on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @04:03AM (#22792942) Homepage Journal

      As I recall, there's some theoretical curve for robots where the human acceptance of a robot dramatically drops at a sweet spot as reality is approached and doesn't rise until reality is achieved.

      Yes, it's called the "Uncanny Valley [wikipedia.org]".

  • Simply Amazing. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sterrance (1257342) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @03:33AM (#22792854)
    It reacting to a kick was so lifelike I wanted to call Peta. I frankly don't see the actual use in war, besides transporting things, I can't wait till they make toy versions.
    • Re:Simply Amazing. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @04:10AM (#22792970)
      If you "don't see any actual use in war, besides transporting things", you're really not trying.

      Add a turret, a video camera, and a remote control -- presto, a soldier that can march 24/7 across the desert, across the ice, through tear gas clouds, through radioactive fallout, and arrive somewhere all fresh and ready to shoot people, or drop bombs.

      They're not going to "make toy versions", at least not any time soon. Why try to make a $100-1000 toy, and compete on the free market, when you can keep everything secret and sell them to the military for orders of magnitude more?

      I'm an American, and these things scare me. Robert E. Lee once said "It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it". Our government is making it significantly less terrible (for its own soldiers) all the time, and they also seem to be growing rather fond of it. When you can run a robotic war (in the air and on the ground) by remote control, what's to stop you from attacking everybody you don't like?

      I predict we'll have robot infantry on the ground inside of 5 years, and within 2 years of that, they'll be back here patrolling American soil. And no, it's not a partisan issue, either: even Obama, the democratic frontrunner, wants to *increase* military spending, even though America's military budget is already larger than the military budgets of every other country in the world, combined.
      • Re:Simply Amazing. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sloth jr (88200) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @09:00AM (#22794278)

        If you "don't see any actual use in war, besides transporting things", you're really not trying.

        Add a turret, a video camera, and a remote control -- presto, a soldier that can march 24/7 across the desert, across the ice, through tear gas clouds, through radioactive fallout, and arrive somewhere all fresh and ready to shoot people, or drop bombs.


        And this could be likely achieved with other conventional robotic conveyance mechanisms. If you just need to deliver a mobile land-mine, adaptation of simple RC cars could probably serve. As for dropping bombs and shooting people - there are plenty of airborne weapons that would be difficult to surpass in terms of "efficiency". Cheaper and simpler will win.

        About the only military use I can see for this might be urban alley crawls, where terrain could be difficult, cramped, and dangerous, and possibly IED detection/detonation. I agree with parent about this being mostly a pack mule.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Unoti (731964)

          this could be likely achieved with other conventional robotic conveyance mechanisms... I agree with parent about this being mostly a pack mule.
          Keep in mind this is an early version. Future versions might be like a pack mules when needed, but a group of lightning fast completely silent wolves on demand.
      • Add a turret, a video camera, and a remote control -- presto, a soldier that can march 24/7 across the desert, across the ice, through tear gas clouds, through radioactive fallout, and arrive somewhere all fresh and ready to shoot people, or drop bombs.

        ...

        I'm an American, and these things scare me. Robert E. Lee once said "It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it". Our government is making it significantly less terrible (for its own soldiers) all the time, and they also seem

        • by gnick (1211984)

          Keep out those pesky reporters, and you've got a genocide on your hands.
          Or an empty DMZ - There are already turrets between the Koreas that react (potentially fatally) to heat signatures and would treat reporters no different than soldiers. I'm not defending that as the right approach. But, if you could restrict this guy to the right arena, he'd make an effective border patrol agent.
      • by Solandri (704621)

        even though America's military budget is already larger than the military budgets of every other country in the world, combined.
        Reference please? Everything I've seen puts it between 25%-33% the world's military spending; which is not that far off from being 27% of the world's GDP.
      • Well, there is a simple counter balance to non terrible war, if the enemies soldiers are too hard to kill, then the solution is to attack the civilians. At that point it become less about victory, and all about revenge.
      • those ideas are lame, am I really the only one thinking you could totally put a saddle on that thing and ride it like a horse.

        Imagine how awesome this would be with the legs of big dog on it... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QMaS4pB9rw [youtube.com]
      • by dave420 (699308)
        Unlike a soldier it can't forrage for food should its charge run out, so the "24/7" might be somewhere closer to "4/7" :-P
    • by tjhayes (517162) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @04:31AM (#22793042)
      It reacting to a kick was so lifelike I wanted to call Peta

      Sounds like maybe we should call PETA on you, since it sounds like you know exactly how an animal reacts when it gets violently kicked :)
      • by bendodge (998616)
        I realize this is offtopic, but nobody in their right mind should call PETA. It was revealed recently in court testimony that despite raising over $30 million in 2006 (and spending most of it), they found homes for a grand total of 12 pets. The rest (over 97%) were killed.
    • by Yetihehe (971185) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @04:42AM (#22793076)

      I frankly don't see the actual use in war, besides transporting things
      Yes, enemies would make small planes fly around it with some rope and tie its legs.
    • by RuBLed (995686)
      No actual use in wars? I beg to differ but a robotic lion, giraffe, leopard, shark and eagle would definitely be a formidable oponent. (even more formidable with the robotic armadillo)
    • by SharpFang (651121)
      I frankly don't see the actual use in war, besides transporting things

      Other than an autonomic anti-tank cannon or 100KG of explosives?
      • There is no reason to use a robot to deliver an anti-tank round when a) the enemy doesn't use tanks and b) if he did, we have 46,000 cheaper, more reliable, and less risky ways of killing the tanks. Similarly, explosive robots have all the ROI of "firing a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hitting a camel in the butt"*, which we have been trying to get away from.

        * Best Dubya line ever. http://www.snopes.com/rumors/bush.asp [snopes.com]
        • If you're unable to nuke the site from the orbit (say, because your troops are there) you must get your hands dirty.

          Say, the enemy has tunnels a'la Vietcong, or underground bunkers or such. You need to send a scout. Who will it be?

          And it wouldn't be good if the robot gets captured, so a good self-destruction mechanism is in order.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hcdejong (561314)

      I frankly don't see the actual use in war, besides transporting things,

      Um, that "besides" you're brushing off so easily is a pretty big one. Today, a common load carried by (US) infantry soldiers weighs around 45 kg. That's a LOT to be lugging around, and it's increasing due to new equipment being added (plus its batteries) and more stringent requirements on e.g. body armor.
      If you can offload half that onto a mechanical dog, the effectiveness of your unit would increase dramatically.
      War is mostly a logistical operation with some fighting going on at the fringes. Anything that

    • One application I think would be good for this type of device is during disasters. Think about it, if they are allowed to roam with supplies they could get into areas at night that would be too dangerous to send people.

      I can also imagine them carrying cell phone capability besides food and medical. Let alone the fact that once if finds someone you know where they are too. Throw some thermal sensors in there and it might be able to scout the interior of partially collapsed structures to identify where peo
    • by mblase (200735)
      I frankly don't see the actual use in war, besides transporting things

      "Things" including, but not limited to, guns, bombs, dying soldiers, mounted remote-targetable weaponry, decoys, etc.....

      But I imagine the idea is simply to have a machine that can carry 300+ lbs. of payload uphill in adverse conditions instead of forcing soldiers to do it, freeing them to be ready to duck and shoot back at any surprise threat instead. I haven't yet seen a video of this thing climbing a sand dune, but I'm certain that's
    • by matt328 (916281)
      Yeah, I was going to say, did anyone else feel bad for it when that guy kicked it? My initial reaction was 'Well that wasn't very nice.'
    • by Verteiron (224042)
      I think its wartime (and peacetime) uses will increase once they're got that engine quieted down. Right now, if I recall, the buzzing engine provides electricity for the motors in the legs. Notice when they've got it hooked up to its harness, it's pretty damn silent. They need either -really- good solar cells (possibly better than exists today), really good batteries, or maybe just a muffler...
    • "I frankly don't see the actual use in war, besides transporting things..."

      And that's not enough for you? Logistics is a MAJOR part of war. Freighters aren't good for much else in war besides transporting things. Neither are flatbed trucks. Or cargo planes. Seriously, the military spends a lot more time hauling stuff around than shooting at people. You don't have to put a gun on something to make it militarily useful.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ucblockhead (63650)
      Given that soldier's packs have been steadily growing and are now on the order of 80-100 lbs, just being able to transport things is damn useful. A few of these with a squad would mean that the squad could move faster and bring more weapons, more food and more high-tech gear. Having infantry that moves faster and can last longer without having to be supplied would be extremely valuable.
    • by Sandbags (964742)
      OK, since you failed to even try to come up with ideas, here's a few:

      1) The robot can run ammo and other equipment back and forth to entrentched or pinned down soldiers. It's (mostly) bullet proof, unlike a person.

      2) It can be armed and equipped as an anti-personell walking mine, one that can climb stairs, jump a fence, navigate complex terrian, and more. Give it a coordinate, a proposed route, and a detonator and let it go.

      3) It's a MULE. Why have soldiers be burdened by several hundred pounds of gear t
  • by poptones (653660) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @03:59AM (#22792936) Journal
    One giant leap for Imperial walkers...
  • True Test (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TFer_Atvar (857303) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @04:06AM (#22792956) Homepage
    Bring it up here to Alaska. I'll believe in the technology when it walks from Fairbanks to Barrow. I'll even let them use bridges to get across the rivers.
  • by Oddster (628633) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @04:06AM (#22792962)
    Robot locomotion of that quality is probably one of the most difficult problems to solve - the robustness of that thing was quite impressive - it survived rubble, snow, ice, and a solid kick that sent it tumbling. I'd really like to know how they did it, if they just managed to perfect current techniques with enough DARPA money or came up with something new - I would imagine it required some very accurate sensors and actuators, and a super-high-precision inverse-kinematics solver. If they can couple that together with a super-accurate local navigation system - which I imagine would be the easy half in comparison - then they've got a huge platform to launch consumer-grade robots if they get to a low enough price (and they do something about the noise). Maybe I will have a robot butler in my lifetime, but it looks like the military gets their mules first.
    • by F34nor (321515) *
      ...robot butler, how about a robot horse? This thing would be more fun to ride thana damn Segway. It makes me think of the devices out of Diamond Age.

      Either way Robot butlers are a total waste of time and effort. It costs about $150 dollars to buy a person through human trafficking. Go get a real butler for a fraction of the cost. Granted you might have to train them but when they realized they are going to making your ass mint juleps instead of being raped for 10 years on the streets of Paris they might e
  • Cool, yes. Useful? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by goodmanj (234846) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @05:07AM (#22793146)
    This is a pretty cool tech demo, but at the moment, its battlefield utility is zero. That two-stroke engine buzz is going to alert every bad guy for miles around.

    Since it needs to be able to exert pretty big forces very quickly, I doubt they're going to lower the power requirements, so I highly doubt they're going to be able to use a quieter power source like batteries or fuel cells. Nothing beats the power-to-weight ratio of internal combusion.

    Me, I'd go with a real live mule instead for all applications you'd use this in. Same payload capacity, not much bigger, totally silent, self-refuelling, costs $hundreds rather than $hojillions.
    • by stiller (451878) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @05:35AM (#22793232) Homepage Journal

      This is a pretty cool tech demo, but at the moment, its battlefield utility is zero. That two-stroke engine buzz is going to alert every bad guy for miles around.
      You assume that they'll use it for stealth operations. Not everything on the battlefield needs to be stealth. A tank is pretty noisy, still, it has it's place. For example, in a forrest situation, you might be able to hear it, but you won't see it until it's in a line of sight. And then it's a matter of your reaction speed versus that of a robot. Also, you could simply flood a battlefield with these things - think thousands - and give them all an explosive payload. You just got yourself a thousand kamikaze dogs (or more accurately, locomotive claymores).
      • but you won't see it until it's in a line of sight

        Yeah, because I left my IR goggles on my bunk.

        • by Zerth (26112)
          >>For example, in a forrest situation, you might
          >>be able to hear it, but you won't see it until
          >>it's in a line of sight.

          >Yeah, because I left my IR goggles on my bunk.

          Wow, your IR goggles let you see through trees!
          You sure those aren't xray specs?
      • The sound could also be used as a weapon, to damage enemy morale. The German StuKa bombers [wikipedia.org] had sometimes air-powered sirens attached to their planes, to scare and frighten the civilians. This is also used in many computer games - you can't see the enemy, but you hear a whirring or buzzing sound and you know he's somewhere close.
        And to add to your idea: don't use thousands of robots; just use thousands of tape recorders. Seriously: if those things can't be made stealthy, just hide the noise of the real one
        • by Yetihehe (971185)
          Just like Polish hussars [wikipedia.org] maybe? Well, just make it fast and add wings. It should really scare your enemies. But after one or two sightings, they would be scared no more and would start to devise ways of destroying those robots.
    • > Me, I'd go with a real live mule instead for all applications you'd use this in.

      I guess you've never heard of mules being stubborn...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hcdejong (561314)

      Me, I'd go with a real live mule instead for all applications you'd use this in. Same payload capacity, not much bigger, totally silent, self-refuelling, costs $hundreds rather than $hojillions.

      Self-refueling? That rather depends on the terrain you're on. Totally silent? Until it brays (or whatever mules do) at exactly the wrong moment and ruins your ambush.
      Livestock needs to be taken care of every day, is much more maintenance-intensive than anything mechanical. It also can't be stowed in a container for easy long-range transport.

      • by andphi (899406)
        Braying is the right word. You can hear my parents' donkey from a long way off if he's decided to be noisy. Often, he just sounds off for no apparent reason. I can only guess whether he brays because he hears other equines, wants something, or just feels like saying 'here I am'! Simply put, I wouldn't count any given mule or donkey to be stealthy or biddable in a combat situation, or even in a non-combat emergency.
    • by mblase (200735)
      Me, I'd go with a real live mule instead for all applications you'd use this in. Same payload capacity, not much bigger, totally silent, self-refuelling

      On the other hand, a mule can't be steered by remote control (well, not humanely) or be programmed to reach a pre-designated GPS coordinate and return after a certain time.
    • It may not be stealthy, but it's pretty damn freaky - it'd probably scare the hell out of the enemy. If the thing was lethal - maybe heat following, then the noise could be a psychological bonus, kinda like the German "buzz bombs" scared the Brits in WWII (although in that case the fear was when the noise stopped, because that meant the bomb was dropping rather than flying over you).
    • Yeah but with that sort of payload, they can outfit this one with armor.... can your mule take a bullet?

      The noise can be taken care of with a nice advanced battery... the same ones being worked on for vehicles would work here as well.

      Now that they have the mechanics worked out they should really fork the dev effort and put a nice veneer on that thing and get it a battery supply.. then it will truly be creepy... nearly silent, all black and shiny (I think it needs a black/blue/purple/green iridescent carapac
  • This to me looks like it has the equivalent walking ability of a relatively newborn animal. Robotics is definitely progressing to the point of rudimentary natural motor skills.

    A decade or two from now with improvements in batteries allowing for stronger and faster motors along with an increased number of quicker processors and you'll have something that will truly resemble natural animal movement. It wasn't that long ago that the pinnacle of robotic movement was stiff and insect like.
  • Aside from the lack of a third pair of legs, the combinations of a pair of panniers at the front that look like a pair of compound eyes, the black colour scheme, the shape of its legs, and the incessant buzzing the thing emits, all came together and made me think of Brundlefly.

    Creepy. But obviously highly sophisticated (or they found a simple rule and implemented it well).

  • How many firkins represent those 340 lbs ? Please use good-old-standard measure units people ...
  • The jump... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by loafula (1080631)
    I was amazed the first time watching this when the robot jumped the mat. It appeared that the bot was smart enough not only to jump the exact width of the mat, but also nimble enoug to plant it's front and back legs in exactly the same places. I watched through a second time, and while the legs do plant in the same spot, the mat is actually moved a few inches back while the robot is in mid-air.
  • Career regrets (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShannaraFan (533326) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @08:07AM (#22793952)
    That is just so friggin cool. Seeing stuff like this makes me regret spending 20 years sitting in various cubicles twiddling database bits...
  • by Dan East (318230)
    I don't know how many of you have seen a newborn calf, but its gait and motion when it jumped (at 3:02 in the video) looked exactly like that of a very young calf.
  • Profoundly creepy.
  • The thing actually looks kind of creepy because it actually gives the impression of being /alive/.

    I hope they fix the annoying whine it makes though. :)
    • by tsa (15680)
      The whine can not be fixed. The robot is made in cooperation with Unseen University, and therefore has a swarm of bees as a brain.
  • "RoboPuppy Mistreatment Alert! RoboPuppy Mistreatment Alert!"
  • Actually: send this robot to Mars.

    Really.

    If the developers can get a high enough reliability, this gizmo has wheels beat all hollow!

  • The best way to destroy these things is to use the gravity gun and a large object to catch the explosive flechettes they shoot at you and then fire them back.
  • Mars?
  • Makes me think of the robot dog that chases Montag through the city.
  • That is awesome - but it scares the shit out of me.

    Couple that thing with the weapons technology I have seen on other defense contractor "robotic soldiers" that can detect and kill from over a mile away.

    But is it fluent in Baachi?
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @12:12PM (#22796496) Homepage

    This is very nice work. It's good to see Raibert doing robotic locomotion again, and finally, with a big enough budget.

    Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Raibert headed the MIT Leg Lab, which produced the first legged robots with real balance control. Raibert started with one-legged hopping machines, to force the balance issue. His big insight was that balance is more important than gait. In 1992, he left MIT and did a startup, Boston Dynamics, and went off into simulation. Most of the simulations weren't dynamic, just kinematic. Now he's back to robotics, and dynamics, again.

    I've worked on control of robot running on rough terrain [youtube.com]. So I understand the problems. Watching the Big Dog video, I have a reasonably good idea of how it works. This is quite impressive. DARPA got its $40 million worth.

    First, it has slip control, like automotive ABS, for its feet. The first insight on the hard cases for locomotion is that balance is more important than gait. The second is that slip control is more important than balance. The key to slip control is keeping the transverse forces at foot-ground contact below the point where the feet break loose. ("Inside the static friction cone", for those familiar with the terminology.) Watch it move on ice. The feet do not slip at all unless there's real trouble, as when someone kicks the thing. The transverse forces are being held below the break-loose point. Given the load on the foot, the actuator forces (hydraulic cylinders on Big Dog) must be coordinated to keep the transverse force below the ground coefficient of friction times the longitudinal load. Finding the ground coefficient of friction can be either trial and error (if it slips, reduce the value) or they may have actual slip sensing in the foot, like humans and animals. Humans, incidentally, tend to maintain a contact force about 20% above the break-loose point, as a safety margin.

    Big Dog's reaction to a slip is to immediately raise the foot and go for a new foot placement. That's an emergency behavior, though; it's the prevention of slip that makes it work. Watch the robot's reaction when it slips on ice, and, once you know what to look for, you'll see how it does it. The first priority is to recover traction. As soon as a foot slips, it's lifted and placed in a new position. The second priority is to recover balance. As the robot starts to roll to the right, it executes a violent twist to the right and throws out the right front foot. It needs a foot position within the traction limits to provide the roll moment needed to recover balance, and it has a good enough planner to find one. Look at that sequence and ask yourself first "where does the foot need to be to get traction", then "where does the foot need to be to recover balance". Then you'll understand how it works.

    Big Dog has, finally, true gaitless locomotion. Decades of locomotion research have focused on gait, foot sequence, "central patten generators", and similar mechanisms that deal with the easy cases. Wrong answer. The right answer is to think of legs as assets that can be deployed to maintain slip and stability criteria. It's very clear that Big Dog does this; it can use its feet (and knees!) as necessary. It's not constrained to a gait pattern at all.

    There's a true dynamics predictor and planner in there. This is not just a reactive robot, like Brooks' little machines. Nor is it a straightforward ZMP ("zero moment point" [wikipedia.org]) stabilization system, like Asimo. (Think of ZMP as a generalization of center of gravity to include momentum.) There's a planner with a horizon of (I think) about two foot placements ahead, and it has "what if" internal simulation capability. That's why this robot moves so well. It can predict, at least approximately, what's going to happen for its next move, and plans on that basis. That's why its movement are so smooth. Without that, you'

    • Reaction time (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bar-agent (698856)
      I noticed that the reaction time while it was recovering on the ice didn't seem much different from animals that I've seen slip. But you are right that the robot's precision is a lot better; its legs aren't getting in each other's way.

      I wonder why the reaction time is about the same. Does the dynamics planner take that long to figure out what to do? Are the actuators slow enough so that it can't recover in a blur of leg motion? Or is that just the minimum amount of time stabilization can physically take?
  • Based on the fact that it tends to fall on its knees on anything but the best surfaces, it would probably be more efficient with just knees.

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