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The world's most advanced quadruped robot

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March 3, 2006

The world's most advanced quadruped robot

The world's most advanced quadruped robot

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March 4, 2006 Boston Dynamics has released images and details of BigDog, which it is billing as the most advanced quadruped robot on earth. If that seems like a tall claim, check out this video of BigDog (Caution 27MB WMV) doing its thing by walking over uneven ground, up slopes, over piles of rocks, snow, through water etcetera – though clearly still in development, BigDog is incredibly impressive and we challenge anybody to view the movie and not see BigDog’s future potential as a mechanical pony for children or as an all-terrain four-legged “wheelchair” that can take a 90-year-old for a walk over an orienteering course or … much much more. In short, BigDog is a quadruped robot the size of a small horse, and could equally have been called a robotic mule, because its skill sets are pre-destined to see it pressed into military service as a mule-like carrier companion for soldiers where conventional vehicles cannot go. Initially developed with funding from DARPA, BigDog’s raison d’etre is to carry ammunition, food and supplies into battle. BigDog is much more than a dumb mule - it is a pointer to the future - a wonderful example of humanity learning from the biomechanics and energetics of animal movement to build better robots that will serve humanity in many endeavours. Go on, check out the video - we promise you'll show all your friends.

BigDog can walk, run at speeds up to 3.3 mph, climb over rough terrain or up slopes up to 35 degrees and carry heavy loads – currently up to 120 pounds, but as development goes on, that figure might be significantly increased. BigDog is currently annoyingly noisy thanks to power being delivered by a gasoline engine that in turn drives the hydraulic actuation system for its legs.

BigDog's legs are articulated like an animal’s, and have compliant elements that absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next. BigDog has an on-board computer that controls locomotion, servos the legs and handles a wide variety of sensors.

In the video you’ll see BigDog’s creators demonstrate its ability to withstand significant kicks, maintaining its balance and resuming its purposeful cross between a dance and a canter almost immediately.

BigDog’s control system manages the dynamics of its behaviour to keep it balanced, steer, navigate, and regulate energetics as conditions vary. Sensors for locomotion include joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load, a laser gyroscope, and a stereo vision system. Other sensors focus on the internal state of BigDog, monitoring the hydraulic pressure, oil temperature, engine temperature, rpm, battery charge and others. Size wise BigDog, measures one metre in length, though it should be noted that it doesn’t have a dog’s head and neck, so it’s actually equivalent in size to a dog 1.3 metres long and its back, or saddle height is around 70cm. Currently, BigDog tips the scales at 75 kg.

BigDog’s development is funded by the DARPA Defense Sciences Office.

BigDog is being developed by Boston Dynamics with a "dream team" of collaborators such as Foster Miller (makers of the Talon and the first gun-toting robotic combat soldiers), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Harvard University Concord Field Station. Read this wonderful article in Harvard Magazine about studying animal locomotion at Harvard's Concord Field Station.

Boston Dynamics is an engineering company that specializes in robotics and human simulation. The company began as a spinoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where Marc Raibert and his colleagues first developed robots that run and manoeuvre like animals. Their groundbreaking work inspired the launch of Boston Dynamics in 1992. The company’s customers have applications that range from military robotics to simulation-based training to physics-based virtual prototyping. Sony Corporation turned to Boston Dynamics for help developing its line of entertainment robots such as Aibo and QRIO. The company is developing robots and human simulations for the United States Army, Navy and Marines and has developed robots unparalleled in agility and rough-terrain capability.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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