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A View from Kristina Grifantini

A Soldier's (Robotic) Best Friend

BigDog could save lives in the field.

  • February 23, 2009

The video above, from the U.S. army’s Benning Report, shows new footage of a robot called BigDog–a sophisticated, four-legged “pack-bot” designed to carry heavy payloads across all kinds of terrain.

Resembling a headless, mechanical canine, BigDog has to be one of the most unsettling robots out there. But it’s also one of the more impressive–it can walk up or down hills, through ice, sand, snow and dirt by monitoring sensors in its legs and adjusting its posture accordingly. It can also quickly recover from a stumble or slip. The 250-pound robot, designed by Boston Dynamics, can carry 340 lbs and could provide a valuable safety addition to soldiers in the field.

“There’s no robot that can go where a foot soldier goes, helping him carry his load,” says Boston Dynamics president Marc Raibert in the video, which documents BigDog testing in at Fort Benning in Georgia. Currently, the combat load for soldiers is 145 lbs. If BigDog could carry some of this payload, soldiers could more deftly maneuver out of dangerous situations. Wheeled and tracked robots are limited, so a robot that could traverse difficult terrain would help save lives, say the soldiers in the video.

The company announced last October that BigDog had used GPS to walk a record distance of 12.8 miles on its own. Conceived in 2003, the robot is still a few years away from helping soldiers in the field. You can see an older video of BigDog successfully recovering from a kick to the gut here.

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