Thursday, March 07, 2013

Cinder block-throwing robotic dog, both awesome and scary

When I started this video I wasn't sure what to expect. I've posted other videos about robots by Boston Dynamics and most of those seemed to involve the robots staying on their feet as they encountered various obstacles. This one is a little different. This robotic dog (for lack of a better term) hurls a huge cinder block across the room.

From the video description:

BigDog handles heavy objects. The goal is to use the strength of the legs and torso to help power motions of the arm. This sort of dynamic, whole-body approach to manipulation is used routinely by human athletes and will enhance the performance of advanced robots. Boston Dynamics is developing the control and actuation techniques needed for dynamic manipulation. The cinderblock weighs about 35 lbs and the best throw is a bit more than 17 ft. The research is funded by the Army Research Laboratory's RCTA

I'm sure this technology will have many useful, benign applications in the future (e.g. demolition, rescue, bomb removal, trail blazing, etc.), but I have to admit the sight of a robot throwing a heavy object in such an organic way left me feeling both impressed and a little freaked out. It's not the power that did it. We have machines and robots far more powerful than this one. Rather, it's the way the robot moved to make the throw that made me uneasy. Perhaps I experienced a bit of that hypothesized uncanny valley. How could I not? The robot even seems to be craning its neck after the throw to see how well it did, as if wondering if it beat its old record.

Here is where you can learn more about the Boston Dynamics BigDog project.

[ Thanks Tom! ]

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