Futuristic Bigdog Robot to Replace Pack Animals

Move over “Bessie the Mule,” BigDog is coming!

Boston Dynamic’s creation, BigDog is barely more than a set of four legs with a brain—but what a brain! It balances on ice, catches itself when it slips, trudges up slippery, snowy hillsides and toughs it out carrying a mule pack on its robotic back.

“Neither snow nor rain…” well, you get the idea.

The company’s remarkable video, available here on Youtube, demonstrates some of BigDog’s incredible abilities.

The corporate website boasts “BigDog is the alpha male of the Boston Dynamics robots. It is a rough-terrain robot that walks, runs, climbs and carries heavy loads. BigDog is powered by an engine that drives a hydraulic actuation system. BigDog has four legs that are articulated like an animal’s, with compliant elements to absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next. BigDog is the size of a large dog or small mule; about 3 feet long, 2.5 feet tall and weighs 240 lbs.”

The BigDog program is supported and funded by the Tactical Technology Office at the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Replacing the Old West’s U.s. Cavalry’s pack mules with a 21st Century robot version seems like something from a gamer’s imagination, yet BigDog continues to impress the Big Brass at DARPA with its abilities and diverse applications on the battlefield.

The robotics company manufactures the military robots for absolute functionality. Teddy bear features and cuddly looks are left on the drafting board tables.

Marc Raibert, a former MIT professor and the innovative founder of Boston Dynamics told Brian Crecente of Kotaku.com that “We did not do any aesthetic design on BigDog. We talk about getting a designer to work on (the robot’s Pentagon configuration), but have not done anything about it. We sometimes use artists to create concept sketches when developing new ideas for robots, but the robot designers do not use the sketches when doing the designs.”

Perhaps that’s because the military is not very much concerned with the aesthetics either. What they want is a tireless animal that can do the job of an animal as well as an animal without the need to feed it, care for it, house it and train it.

Although BigDog is the answer to a foot soldier’s prayer, some people have remarked the four-legged robot looks ugly.

“I think if the robots we built help soldiers and marines carry heavy stuff, so they don’t have to carry it themselves, they will think…BigDog is a beautiful thing, no matter what it looks like,” Raibert explained.

Like the family mutt

Asked about the future for BigDog, Raibert revealed the company is working on a follow-up to the current robotic incarnation. Basically, the upgrading will be functional and possibly incorporate some ergonomic improvements. “It might get skins to help keep the dirt and water out. Right now we are focused on functionality. We might make a cosmetic pass later, but there are quite a few constraints just based on functionality, such as packing everything in and retaining mobility,” he said.

“For all I know, they [soldiers] may like it better if it is ugly, like the family mutt.”