Boston Dynamics releases amazing video of its PETMAN bipedal robot


October 31, 2011

Boston Dynamics has released a video of its bipedal humanoid PETMAN robot, performing a variety of activities

Boston Dynamics has released a video of its bipedal humanoid PETMAN robot, performing a variety of activities

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If you were tasked with testing clothing that was designed to protect soldiers from chemical weapons, it goes without saying that you wouldn't dress an actual person up in those clothes, then fire chemicals at them. If you just put those clothes on an inanimate mannequin, however, it wouldn't provide any information on how effective those clothes were when in motion, or in a wide variety of body positions. Well, that's where Boston Dynamics' PETMAN (Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin) humanoid robot comes in. The self-balancing clothes-testing machine can walk, run, crouch, and even do push-ups. Today, PETMAN's creators released the first-ever public video of the robot being put through its paces - and it's pretty impressive.

A hydraulic actuation system moves PETMAN's various appendages, via an umbilical tether. The robot is designed to physically represent a "50th percentile male," with a weight of 80 kilograms (176 lbs) and height of approximately 1.75 meters (5.74 feet). It is also able to simulate respiration, perspiration and changes in skin temperature, in direct response to its level of physical exertion.

In its current headless state, PETMAN is somewhat reminiscent of the nasty Hector robot, from 1980's Saturn 3. A head and neck are reportedly in the works, however, as is the possibility of a non-tethered version of the robot, which could be used to carry out tasks in hazardous environments. Although that might seem like a tall order, Boston Dynamics has already achieved success with its self-contained quadruped BigDog robot.

The company plans to deliver PETMAN to the U.S. Army next year. The video below was first shown last month in San Francisco at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, but hadn't been made public until now.

Source: IEEE Spectrum

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Nice, but can it pull the truck full of batteries needed to power it?

Joseph Shimandle

I\'m a little confused on the need for this robot.

Article says that this company is \"....tasked with testing clothing that was designed to protect soldiers from chemical weapons...\" and for this reason it has created a robot that can move like a real person.

It\'s this a bit of overkill? Who approves this expense?

You would think that they could do something a whole lot simpler that this to test how chemicals can affect the clothes on a moving person.

With silly programs like this it is no mystery that we piss away so much money for government programs.

I like funding for innovation and research as much as the next guy but this is way out there.


I\'m the biggest fan of tech ever, but this makes me feel just a tiny bit uneasy. Introducing the soldiers of the future

Tony Smale

Almost scary...

Martin Pernicka

It looks creepy - and it lacks softening in it\'s hydraulic circuits.

Too jerky.

Mr Stiffy


Flipider Comm

it looks like it should be in in that film clip \"everybody shufflin\"

Denis Klanac

Holy crap... Impressive sh*t... Think 3-5 years from now, and these machines can finally start to replace rescue workers, astronauts(?), even soldiers etc? \"How many killed in road bomb today; zero... However 4 petmen were destroyed...\" And rescue personel digging for survivors after an eartquake could easily lift away 2-300 kg debris vs. humans 50-100 kg\'s... Intriguing thoughts indeed.

Miguel Erland

Well, what do you know? I have seen the terrifying evil robot from the future....and he\'s a ginger. :)


I have seen this before a few years ago. There was a company selling them for under 300k. I believe the r&d budget was 2M though. Dont forget to add the 3000x human strength. :)


Is it \"overkill\" to test the abilities of a soldier\'s protective garments against REAL chemical agent while the garments are undergoing real-world stresses? The army needs to know that the garments it issues to soldiers are actually capable of defending against chemical weapons. Not a patch of protective material, not against simulants. And where there is failure, it can be analyzed and improvements can be made.

The army\'s other option is to use people. Care to volunteer? \"Silly\" is a luxurious word for you who bears no risk.

Who approves this expense? By action or inaction, you do.


I think that\'s impressive. Sure it\'s a little jerky, but geez, give them some credit. The faster pace has a stylin strut quality to it.


@SnakeVenom, I suspect you\'re confusing this with something else. For starters, that\'s not a $2M machine - add another zero and then consider doubling it a few times.

@Hammerfist, if the objective was to test clothing, a mannequin with moving limbs and a set of wires and pulleys would surely suffice - there\'s no way that autonomous motion would be required. These are designed to kill people. They are to the foot soldier what a drone is to a bomber - a way of killing others without risking one of your own.

Marcus Carr

I think this is amazing and inevitable. As someone else said, the power supply will have to be made portable. Just like Big Dog, you can hardly sneak up on the enemy with something that sounds like a chainsaw. But as we say in engineering... \"That\'s a detail\".


It\'s not that hard to build a suitable nuclear battery that could power this device for a year without replacing the batteries. The only real obstacle is an infrastructure to produce the necessary nuclear materials, and it\'s really only a conceptual barrier to that infrastructure seeing as we have almost 95% of the equipment needed to produce the isotopes dispersed over the nation at various national labs.

So, anybody want a T101? Preferably without the murderous AI of course.

Gwyn Rosaire

I think that it would not be immoral to do the tests using death row and other long term inmates if they volunteers in exchange for reduced sentences and/or other concessions.


@Marcus Carr,

You are essentially suggesting the use of a large marionette- that\'s a No-Go, totally insufficient for the clear purpose of this requirement. Think it through some more.

The end product here is designed for a treadmill in a sealed chamber, and would be a complete laugh on the battlefield. Sure, this technology could be a step toward what\'s necessary to design humanoid combatants, but the cost-benefit calc is going to be this side of ridiculous for quite a long time.


I wonder if I\'m the only one who is seeing the movie Saturn 3 in his head right now.


@Hammerfist, in what way would a less technical solution be insufficient for testing clothing? For example, how does its ability to walk unaided provide better data than having hydraulic cylinders mounted to the feet, holding it upright and emulating walking?

How much do you think it costs to take a soldier from the streets to the grave? Including pay, feeding, training, human factor considerations, health care, superannuation and/or compensation to the family after death, I suggest that it could be a million dollars. (Just look at the cost of raising a child.) Once they get to the point of mass production, these things would presumably cost less than $100k from assembly to scrap, with software development being the only major ongoing cost. As clumsy as they may be, you\'d consider sending 10 of them out now in place of one soldier.

These aren\'t for testing clothes - it\'s a cover story. No pun intended.

Marcus Carr

re; Marcus Carr

how the foot protection and leg protection interact for one.


@Slowburn, please tell me you don\'t think they spent tens of millions of dollars getting this thing to walk so they\'d know how the pants rub on the boots? Why do you suppose the head is taking so long to complete? Maybe they\'re having trouble getting the hair just right?

If you can\'t see more potential for this than simply testing clothing, you must be drinking the Kool-Aid.

Marcus Carr

Marcus, you have a good response from Slowburn. IPE is a \"system\" of garments, the more you disrupt that system in testing its efficacy, the less relevant your results will be. Relative to your ideas (similar approaches have already been utilized prior to this program) the PETMAN can reasonably questioned as to the marginal benefits that the expense provides. But the reasonable person then also has to consider the value of the soldier as one of our society\'s designated \"heroes\" and member of so many families.

It\'s fun to call PETMAN part of the path to Terminators, have at it. Steven Colbert did a skit about BIGDOG, wait till he gets a load of the final PETMAN.


re; Marcus Carr

Spending big in the testing phase helps shield against paying gargantuan in lawsuits, even if there is still a real flaw in the product. The penalty for negligence is draconian.


But they say straight out that there is \"the possibility of a non-tethered version of the robot, which could be used to carry out tasks in hazardous environments\". How many of these will ever be required to test clothing? Two? Maybe five? How many might the DoD order as a replacement for human soldiers? A thousand? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand?

Boston Dynamics clearly understands the economy of scale as evidenced by BigDog. They obviously developed it with a view to profiting through mass production - to suggest that they haven\'t done the sums for PETMAN is naive.

Soldiers may be heroes to society, but they\'re tools in the context of a defence force, and fragile tools at that. That\'s not intended to be inflammatory, just an introduction to the idea that the DoD is constantly interested in improving capability. Humans can be a weak link.

Marcus Carr

I don\'t think the military would be evasive about their real intentions. ....Would they?



The purpose of this robot is to travel back in time and save John Connor so that he can lead the war against the machines.

Justin Murray

Does anyone REALLY think is was developed to test clothing? This robot is two generations from being a soldier. Can we say shell company?


For every good application, there\'s a madman brainstorming to see what else can be done with it.

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