Boston Dynamics' AlphaDog Quadruped Robot Prototype on Video

Boston Dynamics has just released some absolutely incredible video of their huge new quadruped robot, AlphaDog

2 min read
Boston Dynamics' AlphaDog Quadruped Robot Prototype on Video

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.

[ Boston Dynamics LS3 AlphaDog ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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