By Peter Lesser
For those who fear that some day robots will rise to power and destroy humanity, today is a frightening day. The creators of the BigDog robot have now introduced their most recent creation. The previously headless "Petman" anthropomorphic robot is now fully dressed and equipped with a head on its shoulders.
The robot's creators, Boston Dynamics, built Petman to help test protective clothing for battle, whereas they designed BigDog for actual combat. Petman is dressed with the latest hazardous materials or bomb suits and then struts its stuff to test the outfit's durability, flexibility and effectiveness.
However it does seem a bit superfluous, as any man could perform the same tasks, unless, of course, scientists actually exposed the robot to toxic chemical warfare agents to further test the battle suits. Well, that's exactly what they do.
In addition to Petman's humanlike range of motion, the robot also sweats and emits heat to get a better handle on the effectiveness of the combat suit. It's also rigged with temperature and chemical sensors that scientists can then compare to normal human body limits. From there, they can determine if an actual person would have suffered from heat exhaustion or overexposure to the deadly chemicals.
Boston Dynamics' research is funded by the Defense Department's Chemical and Biological Defense program. BigDog and Petman are two of the research company's primary projects, but also keep an eye out for Atlas robot, which will have its own demonstration video sometime later this year.
BigDog, designed for the battlefield, runs at 4 mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, can walk across rubble, trudge through mud, walk in snow and water, and can carry a 350 lbs. on its back while doing it. It's powered by an engine that drives a hydraulic actuation system. It has four legs, like a dog, is about three feet long, two and a half feet tall, and weighs in at roughly 240 lbs. Its control system keeps it balanced and includes sensors for joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load, a gyroscope, LIDAR and stereo visions system. It's man's best friend on the battlefield.
With each passing day, robots become more sophisticated. While these improvements can help keep humans safe, especially in combat, it's worrisome to watch them adapt and further resemble humans. Robots like Petman are so eerily humanlike that one can't help but think their capabilities will some day surpass our control.