Boston Dynamics to develop two-legged humanoid (and a new hopping robot in their spare time)

Boston Dynamics, makers of our beloved BigDog robot, have just announced their newest project: to build a bipedal humanoid robot called PETMAN. As part of a $26.3M Army contract, the Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin will be "the first anthropomorphic robot that moves dynamically like a real person.â''

petman.jpg

A rendering of PETMAN in its test chamber. Image courtesy Boston Dynamics.

PETMAN is designed to test the suits used by soldiers to protect themselves against chemical warfare agents. It has to be capable of moving just like a soldier -- walking, running, bending, reaching, army crawling -- to test the suit's durability in a full range of motion. To really simulate humans as accurately as possible, PETMAN will even be able to "sweat".

The sweating comes from a special mannequin skin developed by another subcontractor called Measurement Technology Northwest , and of course Boston Dynamics's well-known technology will enable PETMAN to demonstrate the same incredible self-balancing and motion dynamics seen on BigDog.

While we currently look to robots like ASIMO as examples of impressive bipedal, humanoid capability, PETMAN's motion must be faster and more natural -- as opposed to ASIMO's slow shuffling -- and it will demonstrate a much wider range of motion. Additionally, PETMAN must be the same size and weight as an average human man, rather than the short, stocky stature of ASIMO. And dude, it *sweats*. If Boston Dynamics is successful, I think PETMAN will easily be one of the most advanced bipedal humanoids in the world.

In other news, Boston Dynamics also announced another new program, the next-gen Precision Urban Hopper. I think I must have missed Gen 1, because this program doesn't sound familiar to me, but they describe it as follows:

... a four-wheeled robot with one mighty leg for jumping. When fully operational, the robot will navigate autonomously using its wheels, but will jump onto or over obstacles when it meets them. The machine will be able to jump over 25 feet into the air.

This DARPA program, in partnership with Sandia National Labs, is (according to the Sandia program manager) "part of a broad effort to bolster the capabilities of troops and special forces engaged in urban combat, giving them new ways to operate unfettered in the urban canyon."

Boston Dynamics has always had such a fantastic reputation for their four- and six-legged robots, I can't wait to see what the two- (and one-?) legged siblings can do. And not just because I know the YouTube videos will be awesome. I'm also very curious to see how these might eventually be applied outside of DARPA and military applications -- an extremely advanced humanoid that runs, walks, and balances just like a human? I can think of a few ways that could be useful.

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