Flesh-and-blood dogs merely fetch. The robotic pooch that Darpa funded can throw.
Boston Dynamics’ BigDog started life as a headless four-legged robot capable of hauling soldiers’ gear along rough and uneven terrain. The BigDog’s upgrades and follow-on robots are expanding the boundaries of robotic motion, initially with cash from Darpa’s Tactical Technology Office. Its quadruped packmate the Cheetah can outrun Usain Bolt. Its cousin the Legged Squad Support System can follow voice commands. Its big brother the AlphaDog can stand up from a prone position.
But the BigDog has some new tricks: like, um, throwing a cinderblock, as shown in the video above that Boston Dynamics released Thursday. And the robot also a head. Kind of.
Whereas once the BigDog disturbingly lacked anything topping off its torso, Boston Dynamics has attached a fifth appendage where a humanoid robot’s head should be. It’s not really a head: It’s an arm-like limb, almost as long as the robotic legs on the ‘Dog, and terminating in a gripping mechanism. But that grip serves as an ersatz jaw, and a strong one: This upgraded BigDog can pick up a hunk of concrete and toss it like a shotput. Darpa, it should be noted, is done funding the BigDog, so it didn’t add the arm/head/limb/whatever to the machine.
This is a new frontier for the BigDog. Pack mules don’t need to toss anything. Giving the BigDog a gripping tool will surely allow it to carry more stuff. Throwing what it carries is a less obvious functionality, but one wonders when Boston Dynamics will apply the BigDog’s voice-activation commands to its new robotic hurler.
Update, 5:23 p.m.: I’ve changed the headline, since Darpa didn’t provide the add-on for the BigDog to throw anything. Still, the BigDog exists because of Darpa’s initial funding.