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Boston Dynamics Demo Shows Robot Jumping Over Fence

This impressive mechanism could eventually make a great addition to the wildly successful unmanned ground vehicles used by the military.

1 min read

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? 

 

[youtube //www.youtube.com/v/29oUc8Czdic&hl=en&fs=1& expand=1]

 

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.

Previously:

Boston Dyanmics to Develop Two-legged Humanoid (And a New Hopping Robot in Their Spare Time)

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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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