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BigDog grabs, lifts, and throws cinder blocks with its new arm


February 28, 2013

Boston Dynamics' quadruped robot BigDog grabs a cinder block from the floor using its new arm attachment

Boston Dynamics' quadruped robot BigDog grabs a cinder block from the floor using its new arm attachment

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Boston Dynamics' BigDog may have already been replaced by the beefier LS3, but that doesn't mean it's totally obsolete. Today the company unveiled a version of the quadruped equipped with an arm where a head (or tail) would go. As can be seen in the following video, it's powerful enough to lift and toss a heavy cinder block.

Key to this work, funded by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, is that BigDog uses the dynamic forces of its whole body to help it throw the cinder block. It begins by taking several steps to the side before quickly accelerating as it swings its arm, temporarily launching itself into the air in the process. This approach is similar to the way an athlete winds up before throwing a discus, for example, and greatly enhances the robot's throwing power. Since few robots are as capable as BigDog when it comes to balance, it's an excellent platform to test these sorts of strenuous actions.

It's somewhat puzzling that BigDog's new configuration doesn't include two arms, which is a form factor that has been explored by researchers in the past. Back in the early 1990s, the Japanese government unveiled a nuclear plant inspection robot with a humanoid upper-body that walked on four legs. The idea was to combine the stability of a four-legged robot with the manipulation capabilities of a human. More recently, a team at the Italian Institute of Technology has shown plans that would add a pair of arms to their quadruped HyQ, presumably for the same reasons.

Perhaps with an arm or two BigDog – which has cost tens of millions to develop so far – could still help soldiers do some heavy lifting while its descendant is transporting gear out in the field. If a new version of BigDog had two arms to work with, it could presumably lift even heavier objects.

Source: Boston Dynamics via YouTube

About the Author
Jason Falconer Jason is a freelance writer based in central Canada with a background in computer graphics. He has written about hundreds of humanoid robots on his website Plastic Pals and is an avid gamer with an unsightly collection of retro consoles, cartridges, and controllers. All articles by Jason Falconer

Remember the good old days when we threw things for Fido to fetch? Since Fido watched "Terminator" it's a case of "Here puny human, fetch this ... or it's hasta la vista baby".


Very impressive - but the real problem isn't neither the software, nor the mechanics of the process - is the cables hanging from above. Until a reliable powersource will not be attached to such a robot, it will remain at lab curiosity stage.

Dan Vasii


Clearly you haven't looked at Big Dog at all except what you saw in this video, and yet made this big sweeping statements.

Its more than capable of operating beyond a 'lab curiosity'. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1czBcnX1Ww

Chef Borjan

Since article started with the statement that BigDog has been replaced by LS3, I'm surprised the author resisted the temptation to ask, "Who says you can't teach an old Dog new tricks?" :)

Suman Subramanian

the elephant now has an android counter part. love it!

Roger Chan

I can't even imagine where Big Dog will be in 30 years. Probably on Mars.


Oh great... now after it chases you, it can catch you... and throw you.

Jay Lloyd

@ Chef Borjan

having watched the video, i can just imagine that device assisting soldiers in the field - as long as their opponents are all deaf


Airport baggage handling, anyone?

John Ebbinghaus

Teach it how to Lay a cinder block wall ,and then you will have something. What a waste of brainpower...to build things simply to destroy...teach it to Create something !

Steven Littlejohn

People seem to be missing the point. The fact that during testing it is either tethered or carrying a noisy generator is completely irrelevant. Each subsequent engineering improvement we see in big dog is another significant improvement. The first generation could just walk, then it could walk on different inclines, then on loose rocks, then on ice. Its control system is also able to account for sudden changes in parameters, like when a person pushed it with their foot. And it maintains balance gracefully given how top heavy it is. This latest update is one where it can pick up a block of potentially uncertain weight and dimensions, and balance while throwing it. Just how well it does it is not obvious until you appreciate the slow motion video. I doubt the enemy will be laughing in a decade when they see a few dozen of these things armed with flamethrowers and grenade launchers, silently creeping up on their position.


That was a pretty good throw! If it was given a club, I bet it could bash down a door. I'd like to see it jump through a picture window! I could easily see these robots getting recruited into police & fire depts this decade. How about put a 100' winch on his back for high-rise rescue, he could clamber up the stairs through smoke and fire to where you are stranded, give you a harness, and lower you off the balcony. Then go save others.


This is not comforting at all. No good can come from a robot that can damage us from a short distance. In couple of years they may be throwing us around. Do they make personal EMP machines? I can't worry about the robots AND the zombies.

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