April 8, 2013
Pentagon’s Terminator-Like Robot To Test Military Gear
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Move over Pet Rock, the Petman is on the way — or at least it would be on the way if it wasn´t tethered in place. This anthropomorphic robot from Boston Dynamics was developed for testing chemical protection clothing for humans, and possibly even future robots. Petman reportedly performs natural agile movements as a way to simulate how a wearer might put stress on protective clothing under realistic conditions.
Boston Dynamics is not new to developing robots that can assist in product development. The company has also created robots like the famous BigDog that can actually help on a real battlefield or disaster situation.
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However, unlike the Petman, its past creations have been far less “human-like” in appearance. BigDog looks less like our canine friends after which it´s named and more like a four-legged metallic insect. Yet this rough-terrain robot can walk, run, climb and even carry heavy loads up steep, rocky inclines.
As its name suggests, BigDog is the size of a large dog or small mule and weighs 240 pounds. It is powered by an engine that can even drive a hydraulic actuation system which allows the robot to do its thing. An on-board computer controls the locomotion, processes sensors, and handles remote communications with the user.
While the BigDog can be taught new tricks it still can´t do many things that a human can do, such as testing clothing a human might wear. This is where the Petman anthropomorphic robot comes in. Developed with funding from the Defense Department´s Chemical and Biological Defense program, the Petman is also much more than just the latest pet project from Boston Dynamics.
The latest version has been fitted with a cranium that further allows for testing of chemical and flame-resistant clothing.
The attire isn´t there to make Petman look more realistic — although that could potentially come in handy in future versions. Instead the idea is that Petman can help test the protective clothing when it is subjected to various chemical warfare agents, such as nerve gas. Not only does the robot move fluidly as a human might — something a mannequin simply cannot do — but it can put natural stresses on the suit´s materials as well. This can help determine if rips could form or stresses in seams could endanger a real human wearer to those toxic elements.
The robot has also been designed to produce sweat and body heat just as a real human might as a way to determine whether a human would succumb to heat or other similar stresses.
While Petman is still suspended from wires and is thus essentially tethered to a test platform to do its thing, its cousin Atlas could eventually walk out for field testing and much more. Wired magazine reports that it could take the next step in robotic walking evolution as it looks to compete in the Darpa Grand Challenge of robotic maneuverability.
Such future developments could see robots that aren´t simply used to test the flame-retardant camouflage jumpsuits but also to suit up and protect their human creators. The fact that such a robot might look human is just a bonus.