BigDog is a fighting Man’s Best Friend. He dutifully follows, climbing mountains or carrying his master’s belongings.
But BigDog looks more like a giant spider on four legs. In fact, he’s not a dog at all, but a large robot designed to assist soldiers.
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“Today soldiers have to carry all their equipment in backpacks, which means they often have to carry 100 pounds in addition to their body armor,” explains Marc Raibert, CEO of Boston Dynamics, which developed BigDog. “BigDog accompanies the soldier everywhere.”
The urgent need to spare soldiers’ lives motivated the Pentagon’s R&D agency, DARPA, to give Boston Dynamics the task and money to develop BigDog. The company joins a fast-growing sector.
“Ten years ago, military robots were just used to inspect bombs,” explains Henrik Christensen, professor of robotics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Today more than 10,000 robots are being used in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.”
Modern robots inspect and disarm bombs, explore suspicious cars, test toxic materials and enter buildings to determine risk for entering soldiers. “When a robot is blown up, it means a life has been saved,” explains Christensen.
Future robots, already under development, will be able to do even more. “There will be robots the size of dice that soldiers can throw into a building to find out what’s inside,” explains Christensen.
In the meantime, Boston Dynamics is developing PETMAN, a human war-robot, and LS3, a sci-fi-looking creature complete with a head and scary teeth.