Several months ago we mentioned that Boston Dynamics had received a grant to work on a new version of the "Precision Urban Hopper", a small wheeled robot designed to hop over obstacles 40-60 times its size. Working with Sandia National Labs, they've created a demonstration platform using the hopping mechanism whose demo has been making its way around YouTube. But: why is this demonstration important?
A lot of the coverage I've seen has mentioned that this could be a "PackBot killer" -- suggesting that it may compete with iRobot's highly successful millitary platform, or the similar Talon robot from QinetiQ. Though the platforms have a common shape, I don't think this is the interesting thing about this. The platform is designed specifically to demonstrate the hopping mechanism, and it carries no other payload -- no teleoperated arm to disarm IEDs, no weapons, none of the sensor payloads found on the iRobot and QinetiQ packages. What I think we'll see instead is the development of this mechanism for installation on platforms like PackBot -- or, more likely, SUGV -- and a similar version of the Talon. iRobot has always had videos showing PackBots that can be thrown through a window and be able to immedately start rolling around in a building. It seems like a natural extension of this is a SUGV that can hop up through a second-story window, right itself, and perform its mission.