Boston Dynamics BigDog
Rough-Terrain Cargo-Hauling Battlefield Robot
The United States military has since shelved the BigDog battlefield mule robot concept for the time being.
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BigDog is a robotic product currently under development by Boston Dynamics of Waltham, Massachusetts. The company holds origins tied to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has been in existence since 1992. BigDog represents one of a handful of well-known robotics projects currently under development and funded by DARPA's Tactical Technology Office. The US DoD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency holds the intention of militarizing BigDog to work in conjunction with US ground forces at the squad level - the vision being that of BigDog carrying extra equipment and "weighty" items for troops on the move, freeing up soldiers to last longer and do more.
At its core, BigDog is a true quadruped robotics system utilizing a system of hydraulics and actuators under computer control. The robot operates on commands via a human-managed remote control unit (Operator Control Unit = OCU) and is designed specifically to manage uneven terrains, keeping up with fellow soldiers at crawling, walking or running speeds (up to 4.4 miles per hour). Four jointed legs at each corner of the body handle its steps while an integrated balancing system ensures that the BigDog stays upright. During testing, BigDog consistently proved its ability to quickly recover from being pushed along one side. Additional testing has also placed BigDog on its spine, only to see the system stand upright under its own power. Onboard sensors and programming allow BigDog to navigate varying terrain (including trees, rock, snow and muddy surfaces) without the need for precise user interaction. Onboard systems are managed by BigDog itself.
Since the machine is designed as a cargo hauler, a heavy-duty rack system is installed about the sides of the robot to be used for stowage. Up to 340lbs of cargo can be hauled from one point to another and even jumping over obstacles is also a possibility - BigDog possessing a 1.1 meter high leap in the lab. BigDog weighs in at 240lbs without a cargo load and stands 2.5 feet tall with a 3 foot running length.
Beyond Boston Dynamic's participation in the project, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Harvard University Concord Field Station and Foster Miller have also had a hand in its development.
In 2013, a BigDog was unveiled that featured a trainable arm with 50 lb weight limited. Also in 2013 it was revealed that Boston Dynamics was purchased by Google.
In-depth trials of the BigDog followed in 2014 but revealed several failings - mainly with the noise generated by the onboard gasoline engine. Additionally there were concerns about maintenance difficulties. This has led to the U.S. military shelving the concept of a "robot mule" for the foreseeable future as Google also continues its move away from military-minded contracts. The announcement was revealed in late-December 2015.
Boston Dynamics is said to be continuing its work in the field in an effort to introduce its robot technology for industry purposes instead.