Robotic Pack Mule Learns To Toss Heavy Objects
March 2, 2013

DARPA All Terrain Robot BigDog Now Equipped With Throwing Arm

[ Watch the Video: Dynamic Robot Manipulation ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

An all-terrain robot designed to transport military supplies over areas too steep, rocky, muddy or snowy for conventional vehicles has now been outfitted with an arm capable of lifting and throwing cinder blocks.

The four-legged robot known as BigDog is being manufactured by Massachusetts-based robotics firm Boston Dynamics and is being backed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

It is actually steered by a human driver, who uses an operator control unit (OCU) to communicate with the robot, and it is now apparently capable of carrying and tossing heavy loads while traversing rough terrain.

A video released by the company demonstrates how the robot — which is harnessed to the ceiling — uses a extending arm (which is located where you would expect to find the head of a four-legged animal) to grasp a cinder block. It then moves its legs to simulate movement while carrying the block before rearing back and tossing it over its shoulder.

The block travels “a good 30 feet or so” after being thrown by BigDog, according to Craig Lloyd of Slashgear. “Cinder blocks aren´t light by any means. They can weigh anywhere from 20 to 30 pounds, and most of us would have to use two hands to pick one up. After that, we´d probably only be able to throw one half the distant that the robot threw its cinder block. In any case, you now know that robots are capable of throwing heavy objects straight at you.”

“Of course, we´re not quite sure what the implications would be for a military robot that´s going to be used for carrying supplies. We´re guessing the arm could be used for moving small obstacles out of the way, or maybe hurling heavy objects (like cinder blocks) at enemies,” he added. “Whatever the case, we now know what robots are capable of if they ever turn on us.”

According to BBC News, BigDog has been in development since 2005 and his approximately the same size as “a large dog.” While it was designed with military use in mind, one robotics expert told the British news agency that there was “enormous” potential for the one-meter tall, 240-pound locomotive robot to be used for other tasks, including search-and-rescue missions.

BigDog is “a phenomenal piece of technology“¦ it´s cost a lot of money, but you tend to spend a lot of money on first prototypes, and later on as these things get rolled out, they get cheaper,” Bristol Robotics Laboratory Director Chris Melhuish told the BBC. He added that the “interesting navigation machine” could be used to travel “across a rough terrain” in order to locate “a lost child or a walker on a mountainside.”

"I think the potential is enormous - from pets to robots that are going to help you move your shopping, to a robot on a building site that's moving bricks from one place to another, following a bricklayer around,” Melhuish added. "I wouldn't be surprised if they could even do sport one day — such as robot racing."

According to Boston Dynamics, BigDog is powered by a water-cooled, two-stroke internal combustion engine capable of producing approximately 15 horsepower. It has an onboard control computer which handles communications with its remote pilot and records data for performance analysis and operational support, as well as more than four dozen sensors that measure motion and the force of actuators located at the unit´s joints.

The unit has thus far completed test journeys through mud and snow, as well as on inclines on a variety of different services, they added. It has also been tested completing jumps of over one meter, carrying over 340 pounds on flat ground, and operating for more than two and one-half hours at a time. The developers report that they ultimately hope to make it so that the unit can climb carrying heavier loads and run continuously for at least 20 hours.