Sooner rather than later, humans will be replaced by innovative robots that are designed to take a beating, literally. Not only can they withstand bomb blasts, their weapons systems will rival that of aircraft and land vehicles.
The Cheetah is a four-footed robot that gallops at 18 mph, which is a land speed record for legged robots. The previous record was 13.1 mph, set in 1989 at MIT. Cheetah development is funded by DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation program. This robot has an articulated back that flexes back and forth on each step, thereby increasing its stride and running speed, much like the animal does. The current version of the Cheetah robot runs on a high-speed treadmill in the laboratory where it is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump and uses a boom-like device to keep it running in the center of the treadmill.
RHex is a six-legged robot with inherently high mobility. Powerful, independently controlled legs produce specialized gaits that devour rough terrain with minimal operator input. RHex climbs in rock fields, mud, sand, vegetation, railroad tracks, and telephone poles and up slopes and stairways. RHex has a sealed body, making it fully operational in wet weather, muddy and swampy conditions. RHex’s remarkable terrain capabilities have been validated in government-run independent testing.
AlphaDog is built to carry up to 400 pounds of gear over a range of 20 miles without needing to refuel. While still in testing, Boston Dynamics taught the ‘bot two new tricks: autonomously following a human leader, and accepting commands from a soldier using a control pad. Boston Dynamics has also worked to reduce the amount of noise the machine makes. In the future, Boston Dynamics could teach AlphaDog to respond to voice commands, meaning any soldier could radio instructions to it rather than having to use a controller.
Benjamin Stephens is a Ph.D. student in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He is originally from Oklahoma, but received his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University. His PhD research focuses on the control of humanoid robot balance and push recovery for force-controlled robots. He is interested in the use of real-time optimal control for robust control of very complex systems. Using his knowledge and experience, he hopes to make legged/humanoid robots more capable of operating in rough and uncertain environments.
Created by Boston Dynamics, a company you probably already know and love (and fear) for its amazing quadrupedal ‘bots, the PETMAN isn’t going to be fitted out with mini guns and rocket launchers and stabby bits. Instead, it needs its approximate human form and motions so that it can test out clothing for the military. That’s right; engineers are using this expensive piece of hardware to play dress up. Namely, chemical suits that could protect military personnel from attacks your average uniform wouldn’t.