Robots will play a greater role in fighting wars in the future, and BigDog wants a piece of that action.
BigDog is both the silliest and scariest military robot out there. The recent video below from creator Boston Dynamics provides a retrospective on the DARPA-funded quadruped, which is designed as a load-carrying mule for soldiers.
The vid shows six years of BigDog evolution from 2004 through 2010. The 240-pound, all-terrain cyber-canine can tackle slopes up to 35 degrees, rubble, snow, mud, and water, and can carry a 340-pound load. That's handy since the average soldier load has increased dramatically in recent years.
You can't hear it in the video, but it sounds like a go-kart because it runs on a one-cylinder Leopard go-kart engine.
Its sensors include stereo vision, GPS, a gyroscope, and LIDAR--you can kick it and it'll keep on trucking. The machine once set a record for traveling 12.8 miles without stopping or refueling. It can run at speeds up to 4 mph.
No doubt BigDog is impressive, even awesome in its relentlessness, but also ridiculous. Boston Dynamics once had fun "weaponizing" the brute, perhaps inspired by that jocular BigDog Beta video by a pair of spandex-clad parodists.
One serious follow-up to BigDog is the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), also designed to lighten the load for dismounted troops.
"That machine will carry 400 pounds of payload on 20-mile missions in rough terrain, where wheeled vehicles can't go," says Marc Raibert of Boston Dynamics. "We have a lab prototype that we will show soon, and expect the first field prototype ready in summer 2012."
And since Boston Dynamics is working on other animal robots for the military that could conceivably run as fast as 70 mph, it's hard not to wonder whether BigDog could have the last laugh and the joke will be on us.