Boston Dynamics, a US robotics company part-funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has presented its latest creations: Atlas and WildCat.
Atlas is a humanoid robot capable of crossing rough terrain and maintaining its balance on one leg even when hit from the side.
WildCat is the four-legged robot that can gallop untethered at up to 16 mph.
The robots are part of DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation programme.
DARPA says such robots “hold great promise for amplifying human effectiveness in defense operations”.
Boston Dynamics has presented its latest creations, Atlas and WildCat
This version of Atlas is one of seven humanoid robots Boston Dynamics is developing in response to the DARPA Robotics Challenge.
In December, competing robots will be set eight tasks to test their potential for use in emergency-response situations, including crossing uneven ground, using power tools and driving a rescue vehicle.
DARPA wants to improve the manoeuvrability and controllability of such robots while reducing manufacturing costs.
WildCat can bound, gallop and turn, mimicking the movements of quadruped animals. It is powered by an internal combustion engine.
Last year, Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah robot reached a sprint speed of 28.3 mph tethered to a treadmill.
Four-legged robot BigDog now sports an arm powerful enough to lift and throw breeze blocks.
Made by US robotics company Boston Dynamics, BigDog is backed by the Pentagon.
BigDog was designed primarily for military use, and the arm could help soldiers pick up and carry heavy loads.
But one robotics expert said the technology’s potential was “enormous” for use in other areas, such as search and rescue.
BigDog is one of several robots created by the Massachusetts-based firm and funded by the US Army Research Laboratory.
It has been in development since 2005 and is the size of a large dog “or a small mule,” says the company.
BigDog’s legs mimic an animal’s legs, and are able to absorb shock and recycle energy as the machine moves around. It is powered by an engine which drives a hydraulic pump to send oil under high pressure around its plumbing in order to animate its limbs.
In a video created by Boston Dynamics, BigDog is seen lifting a breeze block with an arm attached to where the head would go on its animal equivalent, and then throwing it backwards.
“The goal is to develop techniques for using the strength of the legs and torso to help power motions of the arm,” posted the company underneath the video.
“This sort of dynamic approach is routinely used by human athletes and is now improving the performance of robots.”
Four-legged robot BigDog now sports an arm powerful enough to lift and throw breeze blocks
The mechanical “dog” is already able to move about a varied, rugged terrain while carrying a load. It can perform simple tasks and obey voice commands.
Chris Melhuish, director of Bristol Robotics Laboratory, told the BBC it was “a phenomenal piece of technology”.
“It’s cost a lot of money, but you tend to spend a lot of money on first prototypes, and later on as these things get rolled out, they get cheaper,” he said.
Chris Melhuish added that the robot’s ability to follow a person made it “an interesting navigation machine which might end up useful in other domain, such as search and rescue”.
“[Imagine] setting off these units across a rough terrain if they were looking for a lost child or a walker on a mountainside.
“I think the potential is enormous – from pets to robots that are going to help you move your shopping, to a robot on a building site that’s moving bricks from one place to another, following a bricklayer around.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they could even do sport one day – such as robot racing.”
BigDog is one of a range of robots developed by Boston Dynamics, among them the Cheetah – a headless machine that is able to reach 28.3 mph (45.5 km/h) on a treadmill, faster than the fastest human.