Boston Dynamics' Bigger BigDog Robot Is Alive

The company that brought you the BigDog quadruped now has a bigger beast

2 min read
Boston Dynamics' Bigger BigDog Robot Is Alive

UPDATE 9/28 10:55 a.m.:  Looks like the embargo on the videos was broken. At least one person has posted videos on YouTube. We're including these vids below.
UPDATE 9/28 12:26 p.m.: Videos were removed. Sorry, folks, we'll have to wait for the official vids.
UPDATE 9/30 4:05 a.m.: Video of Boston Dynamics' new, bigger quadruped, called AlphaDog, is here. Vid of Petman still not available.

boston dynamics ls3 bulldog robot quadruped

Boston Dynamics, the company that brought the world the beloved BigDog quadruped robot, is now showing off its newest beast.

Think BigDog on steroids. The new robot is stronger, more agile, and bigger than BigDog. The official name is LS3 (Legged Squad Support System), but it seems that the Boston Dynamics guys are calling it BullDog instead.

Marc Raibert, the flower-patterned-shirt-wearing founder and president of Boston Dynamics, discussed the LS3 project in a keynote talk today at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems.

Boston Dynamics, based in Waltham, Mass., has made significant progress in transforming the DARPA-funded LS3 robotic mule project into reality.

boston dynamics ls3 quadruped robot bulldog

boston dynamics ls3 cad image

Like BigDog, the new robot is designed to assist soldiers in carrying heavy loads over rough terrain. But whereas the original BigDog could carry a payload of 340 pounds (about 150 kilograms) and had a range of 12 miles (20 kilometers), LS3 can carry 400 pounds (180 kilograms) and will have a range of 20 miles (about 30 kilometers).

It's also quieter, and the Boston Dynamics engineers are teaching it some new tricks: It will be able to jump over obstacles, right itself after a fall, and navigate with greater autonomy than its predecessor.

Raibert awed the audience with some amazing videos of the LS3 robot mule navigating rough terrain, trotting, and getting shoved (without losing its balance) not by one but two people at the same time! Alas, we can't show you the videos yet. Raibert told us that he's still getting permission from DARPA to make them public. So in a week or two we'll have them for you.

Raibert also talked about Boston Dynamics' humanoid project, called Petman. It's an adult-sized humanoid that the U.S. Army, which funds the project, will use to test chemical suits and other protective gear.

boston dynamics petman humanoid robot

Petman is another amazing Boston Dynamics creation. Raibert again stunned the audience with some really impressive videos of the humanoid walking, kneeling, squatting, and even doing push-ups!

This is the first time I see a machine performing movements like that. They look remarkably human, yet there's something uncanny valley-esque to them. No wonder Petman creeps out even Raibert himself. And you guessed it: The videos are embargoed as well; we hope to have them here soon.

By the way, if you like robot dogs, Boston Dynamics is hiring. Check out all robotics projects at the company in the slide below.

boston dynamics robotics projects

Images: Boston Dynamics

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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

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

"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.

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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