Back in May (I think, although the video wasn’t posted until now), Marc Raibert, founder of Boston Dynamics, gave a talk at Stanford on the current progress and future plans for BigDog. It’s an over an hour long, but (as you might expect) the juicy bits come in towards the end regarding the future plans. If you don’t have an hour or so, I’d recommend starting in at about the 46:50 mark, where you get to see some video of a quieter BigDog with an electric motor, among other things. If you don’t have time for even that, here’s a summary of what I thought were the most interesting bits:
-Marc Raibert says he’s inspired by mountain goats, which is pretty daunting when you’re designing a quadrupedal robot.
-Robots vs. mules: mules are better, except: they can only carry about a third of their body weight, they don’t take direction well, and they’re not easy to warehouse.
-That video of BigDog slipping on ice and recovering? It wasn’t programmed specifically to deal with slippery surfaces, and they didn’t even know it was icy out, they were just shooting some other test video and it happened to cross a patch of ice, recovering using its standard dynamic balance programming.
-BigDog is able to run (actually run, including a stride phase without any ground contact) at a little bit over 6 mph, although they’re still working on its balance while running.
-Boston Dynamics has two working BigDogs, both of which you can see in action at 30:40 (this is new video). Raibert wants to get 7 or 8 of them together to go dog sledding (!).
-BigDog can’t yet get up on its own, but they’re working on it… The next generation will have the hip (or shoulder) joints positioned outside of the body and higher up, with an increased range of motion that will allow the robot to get its legs under its body, which the current generation can’t do.
-Kinematically, the orientation of BigDog’s legs (knee front or knee back) just doesn’t matter. They’re able to take the legs off and swap them around.
-The noise BigDog makes is “much worse” in person. The videos “don’t do it justice.”
-Electric motor BigDog still sounds like bees (although they’ll be able to mute it completely), only runs for 10 minutes, and is slightly underpowered… They’re contemplating a “hybrid” version, where you can switch to silent operation for 10 minutes and then back to gas.
-BigDog can follow people autonomously using a scanning LIDAR system, engineers say it’s “really scary to have the robot following you going down hills” (ha!).
-There’s no redundancy in the walking system, “BigDog goes down when you shoot off a leg.”
-The biggest challenge so far has been making the system able to run in the heat (due to the engine).
There’s also a little bit of an update on PETMAN; unfortunately, the outtakes weren’t approved for webcast (neither, for that matter, were the BigDog outtakes. FROWNY FACE.). But you do get to see a CAD rendering of PETMAN:
Marc says PETMAN freaks him out a little bit because of the whole Uncanny Valley thing, but he’s trying to be mindful of that while designing PETMAN.
At the end, Marc Raibert even gives a shout-out to that brilliant BigDog parody video… He says that his new metric is how many views his BigDog YouTube videos (and their parodies) receive.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.