Video: Boston Dynamics’ Latest Big Dog Pack Bot

This new video of “Big Dog,” the amazing quadrupedal robot from Boston Dynamics, shows of its latest tricks: the ability to walk through snow and even over ice, catching itself when it slips and falls. Its normal gait is unnatural, but when it starts to scramble to recover it looks eerily real.

Scoop: New video of BDI’s Big Dog robot [Spectrum.IEEE.org via Gizmodo]

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34 Responses to Video: Boston Dynamics’ Latest Big Dog Pack Bot

  1. IWood says:

    #20-

    Do you have any elderly members in your family with mobility issues? Or wheelchair-bound?

    Try not to let your anti-military prejudice turn into technological myopia. Big Dog’s potential civilian applications are astounding.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Oh, re the sound: Dollars to donuts, that’s a small motor running a generator to power it. Note that in the lab sequences it’s on an umbilical.

    I wonder what its fuel efficiency is on mixed terrain.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I was thinking that the legs look just like my dog, but without feet too. Another thing this can do that a real mule could not is live on Mars or other planets. Although this version is heavy, I am sure they could make a smaller or lighter version. Can it get up after falling over on it’s side or back?

  4. FoetusNail says:

    Amazing yet creepy bot! I can’t help anthropomorphizing robots. Eerie, only begins to describe the strange feelings that came over me watching this video. I kept seeing a decapitated calf franticly searching for a way out. The Blair Witch like stumbling down the hill through the woods is classic. I don’t think I like it when it is kicked.

  5. tostare says:

    More importantly, a mule will not run towards a crowd of gun-firing arabs/screaming protestors, firing lasers, rockets and tear gas out of its torso.

  6. Felix Mitchell says:

    @ #32: Runs on compressed air? What.
    You don’t think they used compressed air for pistons in the legs and ran the thing off something like electricity or diesel?

    @ #2: You haven’t seen a camel then?

    Not trolling :o

  7. David Carroll says:

    You had better hope that the robots anthropomorphise us when they take over.

    I agree about the kicking. Perhaps we could open the first chapter of PETR. Or perhaps just program it to kick back.

    I found the choice of having all of the knees pointing toward the center interesting. I can’t think if any animal that does this. This may be the secret to their success so far, but I wonder if this thing will ever be able to trot or run.

  8. Shig Vigintitres says:

    The other thing Big Dog can (potentially) do that a mule could not is fight. You can’t armor a mule, or mount a grenade launcher onto it and expect it to do well on a battlefield, but I fully expect that that’s at least part of what they have in mind for Big Dog. It can’t be a secret that the Pentagon would eventually like to take its human soldiers out of harm’s way entirely.

  9. Kid says:

    The robot is aesthetically beautiful as it is, you can see each part moving and orienting as the whole robot moves.

    I wonder how it would feel if it is dressed in a real dog costume, so we can test if it can pass the Uncanny Valley.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I think fleshy mules are infertile, also. They are bred for only one purpose.

    …this on the other hand, could have many useful purposes in the civilian world (as has already been pointed out). Although, I’m reminded of Dean Kamen’s stair-climbing/self-balancing iBOT wheelchair that had so much potential and led to the useless Segway. I hope we make better use of this technology…

    -Rick

  11. Anonymous says:

    It looks like some creepy human mash-up thing from Silent Hill. Kicking it will only piss it off and then Pyramid Head will be after you. I don’t like it one bit.

  12. Anonymous says:

    IS IT EVEN ON?!

    IT’S WHISPER QUIET!!!

  13. Tom says:

    The robot’s normal gait, with diagonal feet moving together, is technically a pace. It’s funny-looking but not at all unnatural. Horses will use it in the wild, and it’s not uncommon for dogs to pace at moderate speed.

  14. DeusExMachina says:

    Annoying sound aside (which they should definitely work on), slap some sort of riding saddle/ chair on that thing, and you finally have truly functional off road vehicle for the disabled community.

    By the way, I am totally volunteering to test pilot such an application if anybody was wondering.

  15. EthylCannes says:

    I’m intrigued by my own reaction to it. The first few seconds of the video it was terrifying, but by the time it got kicked and then started scrambling on the ice, I felt a huge wave of sympathy.

  16. HarshLanguage says:

    In the lab they have it hooked up to an external power supply, I’d think. There is a cable visible leading up to the moving gantry when they show the indoor course.

    The kick made me wince, too, but seeing it recover so gracefully was pretty cool.

  17. CraigGNoble says:

    Okay, so, let me get this straight…

    These people are labouring under a DARPA contract (I think?) to build a robotic pack mule that can navigate terrain using a crazy array of sensors, software and hardware costing millions of dollars.

    Why not use a good old fashioned organic mule that can live off the land, reproduce for almost nothing, live off the land and is quiet? Is it any wonder that the US military is bankrupting amerika?

  18. Stefan Jones says:

    They need to outfit it with a loudspeaker that repeats “DIE CARBON UNITS!” in a squeaky-cute anime-girl voice.

  19. Anonymous says:

    …Does anyone else get a very vague feeling this is the precursor to the Hunter from the game Half Life 2:Episode 2?
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/6/64/Hl2ep2_ministrider2.jpg/250px-Hl2ep2_ministrider2.jpg

    -Anti

  20. w000t says:

    Now, if they could teach it to fetch a ball and put it in the launcher from the previous post, the circle would be complete.

  21. Hugh says:

    I can’t erase the image in my minds eye: waves of 3rd generation versions of these things in MARPAT camo paint armed with self-sighting submachine guns scaling hills and killing me and my brown-skinned fellows while distant groups of human officers with laptops hydrate and wait for the show to end.

  22. JamesProvost says:

    I had the pleasure of doing some technical illustration of BigDog for Boston Dynamics. It was a dream project and really fascinating to work on.

    A final cutaway illustration can be seen (and zoomed-in on) at http://www.jamesprovost.com/illustration/bigdog.php

  23. wooodster says:

    Yes, Craiggnoble, I was wondering the same thing : what can this electric mule do that a regular mule couldn’t do ?

    For the moment, it doesn’t look like it can run faster or carry heavier charges. And it’s certainly not cheaper.

  24. spike55151 says:

    I had a rather unpleasant emotional response to this machine’s clumsiness…. especially when it was kicked by the researcher. I felt like I was seeing the mistreatment of a living animal.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Seems to me it runs on compressed air, in the lab you can hear it squirting out.

  26. insomma says:

    @ 21

    perform tasks without a head?

  27. justanotherusername says:

    Wow. 8D

    & PS: Hello: maybe the sound was deliberate? (It was silent in the lab.) Joke? Maybe? Perhaps?

  28. Not a Doktor says:

    looks and sounds like a sentient hornet’s nest

  29. Jim O'Connell says:

    Logically, I know, of course, that this is just a robot, but something about it strikes me emotionally as being *very wrong*.

    That said, if it was mine, I’d probably put some sort of head on it, maybe like a fly, along with a lot of shaggy, matted fur, a long slimy pink probiscus, some folded wings and ride it through a small village, just to freak out the locals. Or maybe get that Argentinian Gnome to ride it.
    Yeah. That would be cool…

  30. murray says:

    Wow!! This blows me away. People are talking about how cool Dextre is, but *this* thing is the future. This is amazing — and I’m not talking about how anthropomorphic it is, although that in itself is freaky. This robot’s ability to stay on its feet is fantastic. This is the future. Inspiring.

  31. Anonymous says:

    @#2 As you sit here reading this, scoot your chair back a little and lean forward and put your elbows on your knees. If you are a human like me you may notice that they bend in opposing directions. Think of our simian cousins who still walk on all fours; their knees bend the same way as this robot.

  32. Gregory Bloom says:

    Unlike a mule, Big Dog follows directions to the letter, and can keep slogging along, non-stop, for as long as its fuel supply lasts. You’ll notice at the end of the video where Big Dog was jumping across the yellow-bordered region, how precisely it placed its legs on landing. Further refinement may enable bots that are far more nimble than their slower carbon-based friends.

  33. scl says:

    it seems to me that the legs are jointed normally, they just end where a dog or a horse would have its ankles. Plus, having the legs join the “body” much lower than they would on an invertebrate just makes it look that much more unusual.

    The thing that gets me wondering is, if it has such a natural gait when correcting for loss of balance, couldn’t they incorporate that kind of fluidity into its normal movements by giving it a less defined walking pattern and make it look less artificial?

    Other than that, all I can say is, I want.

  34. Anonymous says:

    What’s most unnatural about the gait is actually the fact that its legs are jointed oddly, with the front pair’s knees running “backward”. Compare with an image of a normal quadruped, where the knees all point forward and hocks point back.

    As a result, it walks as if it was being carried by two people, both facing inward so the one in the lead is walking backward. (Once you look at it with that thought in mind, this becomes obvious, especially in the scenes where it’s struggling a bit — it really starts to look like some sort of two-man costume.)

    I presume making the joint articulation symmetric rather than parallel simplified the design, either in hardware or software. I’m not knocking it; it clearly works… but maybe it ought to be renamed pushmi-pullyu.

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