Boston Dynamics

Marc Raibert

Boston Dynamics is an engineering and robotics company spun off from MIT in 1992 that is best known for the development of ‘BigDog,’ a quadruped robot designed for the US military with funding from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and ‘DI-Guy,’ software for realistic human simulation.

Early in the company’s history, it worked with the American Systems Corporation under a contract from the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division to replace naval training videos for aircraft launch operations with interactive 3D computer simulations.

‘BigDog’ was created in 2005 in conjunction with Foster-Miller, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Harvard University Concord Field Station. DARPA hopes that it will be able to serve as a robotic pack mule to accompany soldiers in terrain too rough for vehicles. Called ‘the world’s most ambitious legged robot,’ it is designed to carry 340 pounds at 4 miles per hour (at inclines up to 35 degrees).

Boston Dynamics set the land speed record for legged robots in 2012 with ‘Cheetah,’ a quadruped that gallops at 28 mph (the previous record was 13.1 mph, set in 1989 at MIT). It has an articulated back that flexes back and forth on each step, thereby increasing its stride and running speed, much its namesake does. The original robot ran on a high-speed treadmill in the laboratory where it was powered by an off-board hydraulic pump and used a boom to keep it running in the center of the treadmill. The free-running version, named ‘WildCat,’ was unveiled in 2013.

‘RiSE’ is a robot that climbs vertical terrain such as walls, trees and fences, using feet with micro-claws to climb on textured surfaces. It changes posture to conform to the curvature of the climbing surface and its tail helps it balance on steep ascents. Each of the small, slow moving robot’s six legs is powered by a pair of electric motors. An onboard computer controls leg motion, manages communications, and services a variety of sensors, including joint position sensors, leg strain sensors and foot contact sensors.

‘PETMAN’ is Boston Dynamic’s first bipedal robot (constructed for testing chemical protection suits). It is the first anthropomorphic robot that moves dynamically like a real person. Much of its technology is derived from ‘BigDog.’ It’s successor, ‘Atlas’ (Agile Anthropomorphic Robot), by contrast, is being developed for real world search and rescue tasks.


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