Monday, May 16, 2022

Boston Dynamics robots that will give you the creeps

There are a lot of robots on the internet, but some of the coolest, mind-blowing examples can be found on one specific YouTube channel.

The channel is managed by Boston Dynamics, a 26-year-old robotics company that began at MIT, was later acquired by Google, and is now a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group. You might not have heard about Boston Dynamics before, but you’ve likely seen viral videos of its autonomous hellhounds, metal cheetahs, or other freakish humanoids. With every new milestone, the company documents its progress and shares the results online for the world to see. Some of it is fascinating, but most of it is downright creepy.

Boston Dynamics robots that will give you the creeps


BigDog was a quadrupedal robot created in 2005, with the idea it would accompany US soldiers in tough terrain and primarily serve as a pack mule, but the project was canned because BigDog was too loud to be used in combat. It featured four legs, was designed to carry 340 pounds (150 kg), could run up to 6 mph across rocks, snow, and mud, and was able to clime slopes at inclines up to 35 degrees. We can’t imagine being in combat and seeing one of these emerge from the rubble and smoke. It’d be like something out of a horror sci-fi movie.


RiSE was an insectoid robot that could climb vertical surfaces, including trees, walls, and fences. It had six feet, micro-claws, and could twist and articulate over bends or curves. It also had a strong tail to ensure balance and to give you the heebie jeebies. It was basically a robot scorpion.


WildCat is billed as the fastest quadruped robot on Earth. It runs 20 mph, has a galloping gait much like a dog or horse, and can lean into turns in order to maintain traction and balance. The control system that stabilises WildCat was first developed on Cheetah, a laboratory prototype that ran 30 mph – faster than Usain Bolt – on a treadmill with no wind load. Honestly, that’s terrifying. It’s already a nightmare to think about robots becoming our overlords, but we hadn’t thought of them running us down like predators in the jungle until now.


LittleDog was a small four-legged robot designed for research on rough-terrain locomotion. It could climb, had a dynamic locomotion gait, and was loaded with sensors that could measure joint angles, motor currents, body orientation, etc. There was also an onboard lithium polymer battery for 30 minutes of continuous operation without recharging. While it wasn’t the scariest of its canine brethren, its headless body was still disconcerting.


This bipedal droid was constructed for testing US Army chemical protection suits. It was the company’s first anthropomorphic robot that moved dynamically like a real person, and it’s just plain freaky to watch now. Worse yet, PETMAN has been updated, so that it can better balance itself as it walks, squat, and does calisthenics. It can also simulate human physiology by controlling temperature, humidity, and sweating inside the clothing to provide realistic conditions. Folks, you’re looking at the beginning of our downfall. In 50 years, this will be our master.


LS3 was basically the newer, militarised version of BigDog, designed to go anywhere Marines and soldiers go on foot, helping carry up to a 400-pound (182kg) load on a 20-mile mission over the span of 24 hours. It used computer vision, could travel to designated locations using terrain sensing, and had obstacle avoidance and GPS. It could also operate in hot, cold, wet, and dirty environments. For some reason, it’s a little less hair-raising, mayne because it’s so large and shaped like a cow, but again, if we saw this thing in combat, it’d have us running the other way.


Based on PETMAN, Atlas is a Terminator-like, 6-foot-tall humanoid robot that moves like a person. He’s been taken outside for testing in the woods and manages to move freely, like a ninja. It has arms, torso, and legs, can manipulate objects, and travels on rough terrain. Most recently, it’s even learned Parkour, which, again, makes us think about how easily these could hunt us down one day.


With Spot, we’re starting to see that Boston Dynamics has a penchant for robot hellhounds. It’s smaller than the second-generation LS3 Big Dog, but just as capable. Spot is a 73kg electrically-powered and hydraulically-actuated robot that could walk, trot, climb, and take a kick and stay standing. We’ve just realized Boston Dynamics is potentially creating an army of Atlas soldiers, each with their own attack dog.


SpotMini is the latest version of Spot. It’s a small four-legged robot that weighs 55 pounds (25 kg), is electric, can go for about 90 minutes on a charge, and is the quietest robot by Boston Dynamics. It has all the mobility of its bigger brother, Spot, with the added ability to pick up objects using its “manipulator” arm that looks a lot like an elongated giraffe neck with a weird face. Although there are yellow plates covering its legs and body, helping it to appear more like a finished product, it’s still very unsettling to watch load a dishwasher.


We had to save the best for last. Handle is truly nightmare-inducing. It basically looks like Boston Dynamics strapped its two-legged Atlas bot to a Segway. Unlike other robots, which can run and jump and walk, this two-legged beast uses small wheels to traverse all around – whether it’s going down stairs, down a snowy hill, or leaping while moving. Handle is 6.5 feet tall, can jump four feet, goes as fast as 9 mph, and has odd little T-Rex arms and, as usual, no head, which is probably why it’s very unnerving to people.


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