ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

A Robotic Menagerie of Mules, Dogs, Cheetahs and Wildcats

Updated on October 6, 2013
Conceptual art of a robotic mule.
Conceptual art of a robotic mule. | Source

Robotic Mules

With today's Marines and Soldiers lugging equipment approaching 100 pounds, their effectiveness is being compromised. Military researchers are looking for ways to reduce this load, freeing the fighters to do their primary function: fight. Within a few years, quadruped robots, designated as “robotic mules”, may accompany troops, bearing burdens of up to 400 pounds each.

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, whose mission is to maintain the U.S. Military's technological superiority, has been funding various robotic mule programs with Boston Dynamics since at least 2005. Boston Dynamics is an engineering and robotics design company spun off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). DARPA's annual budget is about $3.2 billion.

BigDog robots trotting around. BigDog is a dynamically stable quadruped robot created in 2005 by Boston Dynamics with Foster Miller, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Harvard University Concord Field Station.
BigDog robots trotting around. BigDog is a dynamically stable quadruped robot created in 2005 by Boston Dynamics with Foster Miller, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Harvard University Concord Field Station. | Source

BigDog

The first robotic mule was called BigDog because of its dog-like gait when walking. Wheels and even tracks would not take these robots where they needed to go, namely wherever soldiers go. BigDog can run, climb and carry loads up to 340 pounds and, though it has extensive capabilities to automatically sense terrain and correct for slippage and uneven ground, it receives its high-level actions via radio signals from a human operator using an OCU (operator control unit). The operator can start, steer, set the speed and stop BigDog. It can also be told to squat. Its average speed for a trot is 3.5 mph (about the same speed as the first tanks in World War One), but has reached 7 mph bounding in controlled lab tests. Successful trials in the lab and out in the field have set the stage for the next evolution of the robotic mule, the AlphaDog.

Big Dog in Action

Big Dog Tossing Cement Blocks

DARPA logo as of January 2009. It is obsolete now. To show the current logo requires a written license agreement.
DARPA logo as of January 2009. It is obsolete now. To show the current logo requires a written license agreement. | Source

AlphaDog

The militarized version of BigDog has a suitably militarized name: the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), though it is also known as AlphaDog, a bigger and more capable version of BigDog. By early 2014, AlphaDog must be able to carry a load of 400 pounds for 20 miles within 24 hours without refueling. At that point, AlphaDog will be embedded with Marines in field exercises. Currently, AlphaDog can already follow a human using its stereoscopic “eyes”, distinguishing between rocks, trees and people, without an operator continually controlling it. Efforts are underway to refine its “eyes” and “brain” to distinguish a particular individual as its “master”. Outdoor testing has begun as can be seen in the accompanying video. AlphaDog is indeed alarmingly adorable and, at the same time, somewhat frightening.

Additional capabilities are also being investigated:

  • “Ears”, or hearing sensors, to allow squad members to order it to go, stop, squat, sit, come here, etc.

  • Using AlphaDog as a remote auxiliary power source to recharge soldiers' batteries on extended patrols.

The goal is to have a robot with the responsiveness of a trained animal and the carrying capacity of a mule. Judging from the videos, they'll need to make it a lot quieter, too.

AlphaDog in the Lab

Cheetah

Boston Dynamics is also working on the Cheetah, a four-legged robot that can run faster than any other legged robots. While BigDog's fastest speed in the lab is 7 mph, the Cheetah can 28 mph, shattering the 23-year-old record of 13 mph set by MIT in 1989. The next step is to get Cheetah out in the field and untethered. Boston Dynamics say 28 mph is “a good start”. How much faster? They haven't said, although their treadmill can exceed 50 mph.

Cheetah in Action

September 2012 Update

Apparently the version known as “Alpha Dog” has been rechristened “Big Dog” and is or has been undergoing tests outdoors by the Marines. Though the news release mentions it can carry 400 lbs for 20 miles without refueling, it is not absolutely clear that that those are its current capabilities.

And Now... Wildcat

Wildcat, unveiled by Boston Dynamics in October 2013, is slower than Cheetah, but it is untethered, a major advance. Wildcat (see video) is capable of galloping a 4-minute mile (16 mph).

.

Wildcat Untethered

Android with crude capabilities. Actroid-DER, developed by KOKORO Inc for customer service, appeared in the 2005 Expo Aichi Japan. The robot responds to commands in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and English.
Android with crude capabilities. Actroid-DER, developed by KOKORO Inc for customer service, appeared in the 2005 Expo Aichi Japan. The robot responds to commands in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and English. | Source

Avatar

Getting even further out there is project Avatar. In the movie Avatar, a soldier's mind is linked with a genetically engineered alien's body. In DARPA's version, a soldier's mind controls an android (a humanoid-shaped robot), which can do dirty work like “room-cleaning”, “sentry” and “combat casualty recovery”, et al. They'll need to develop interfaces and algorithms to allow the soldier to “partner” with the robot and, not incidentally, build a bipedal robot capable of carrying out the soldier's thought-controls. Currently, both the movie and the robot are science fiction, but $7 million was recently allotted to the project. Judging from BigDog, AlphaDog and Cheetah, the robot may not remain science fiction for long. And think of all the uses Avatar technology could be put to. Yes, think about it.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      rjbatty, yes, I wonder also. I assume when they say that the Avatar will do "room-cleaning", they are not talking about light vacuuming. Androids that capable will be years away-- I assume. Thanks for commenting.

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 

      6 years ago from Irvine

      Uncanny technology. Had no idea such things were being developed. It makes me wonder how many years it may take to create a human-operated Terminator.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Hi molometer. Thanks for the comment and vote-ups. Can you imaging the Cheetah bounding through the woods at 30 or 40 mph? Or a squadron of them? That would turn my bones to jelly.

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Absolutely astonishing robots. What a great hub.

      BigDog is good uphill but the Cheetah is incredible.

      Voted up plus 4/5 buttons.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Screaming, I wonder what we DON'T know. Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image

      screaming 

      6 years ago

      Was unaware this technology was being explored. Interesting.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thanks for commenting and sharing, ata1515. Yeah, they ain't gonna sneak up on anybody just yet!

    • ata1515 profile image

      ata1515 

      6 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      After watching the video my first thought was they need to make it quieter too! Interesting stuff here, It's always cool to see sci-fi become reality. Voted up and shared!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)