Looks like one those Boston Dynamics prototype videos that we were treated to on Tuesday here at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems has been approved for public release by DARPA. It shows Boston Dynamics' gigantic new quadruped, which is apparently not called "BullDog" as we were told a few days ago. Instead, the official name is now "AlphaDog," but it may as well be "HugeAndAwesomeDog." Seriously, check this beast out, and and make sure to listen very, very closely:
Impressive. Oh, and if you were listening, you may have noticed that AlphaDog does not sound like a swarm of killer zombie bees. Amazing!
A couple notes on the video: Those weights that AlphaDog is carrying in a few of the clips weigh a total of 400 pounds (180 kilograms), and the robot will be able to carry that load up to 20 miles (30 kilometers) over the course of 24 hours without having to refuel. At the end of the running demo (just after the 45 second mark), the robot collapses into the safety frame like that simply because it ran out of room, not because of any kind of mechanical problem. And notice how two people pushing as hard as they can don't phase AlphaDog in the least, and in the event that it does tip over for some reason, it has no trouble self-righting, which is a useful new feature.
As cool as BigDog was (and is), its relatively limited payload, range, and awful noise kept it from being a realistically deployable system. AlphaDog, on the other hand, looks like it's getting very close to something that we could see out in the field, using GPS navigation and computer vision to follow soldiers while carrying their gear over any kind of terrain. Boston Dynamics' schedule has the first walk-out of AlphaDog taking place sometime in 2012, when DARPA and the U.S. Marines will begin to put the robot to the test for real.
Evan Ackerman is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, Automaton. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and emerging technology, covering conferences and events on every single continent except Africa, Antarctica, Australia, and South America (although he remains optimistic). In addition to Spectrum, Evan’s work has appeared in a variety of other online publications including Gizmodo and Slate, and you may have heard him on NPR’s Science Friday or the BBC World Service if you were listening at just the right time. Evan has an undergraduate degree in Martian geology, which he almost never gets to use, and still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In his spare time, he enjoys scuba diving, rehabilitating injured raptors, and playing bagpipes excellently.