Thursday, February 4, 2010

Boston Dynamics Wins $32 Million DARPA Contract to Build Four Legged Walking Robots to Carry Military Equipment in Rough Terrain

Boston Dynamics is building walking robots reminiscent of those seen in the Star Wars films for the U.S. military.  

 Big Dog Robot in Woods
 Image Credit: Boston Dynamics

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded a contract on January 26, 2010, under the Legged Squad Support System (LS3) program. Boston Dynamics of Waltham, Massachusetts, will receive $32 million for a 30-month phase that includes trade studies, detailed design work, and building of initial prototypes. 

BigDog is the alpha male of the Boston Dynamics robots and is the largest rough terrain robot in the world. This rough-terrain robot 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.

BigDog's on-board computer controls locomotion, servos the legs and handles a variety of sensors. BigDog’s control system keeps it balanced, navigates, and regulates its energetics as conditions vary. Sensors for locomotion include joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load, a gyroscope, LIDAR and a stereo vision system. Other sensors focus on the internal state of BigDog, monitoring the hydraulic pressure, oil temperature, engine functions, battery charge and others. 

In separate tests BigDog runs at 4 mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rubble, climbs a muddy hiking trail, walks in snow and water, and carries a 340 lb load. BigDog set a world's record for legged vehicles by traveling 12.8 miles without stopping or refueling. 

The ultimate goal for BigDog is to develop a robot that can go anywhere people and animals can go. The program is funded by the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA. 

Boston Dynamics Big Dog Robot
Image Credit: Boston Dynamics

The LS3 program is a joint effort between DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO) and the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL). The program goal is to develop a walking quadruped platform that will augment squads by carrying traditional and new equipment autonomously. These platforms will be capable of managing complex terrain where tactical vehicles are not able to go—lightening the load of Marines and Soldiers and increasing their combat capability. LS3 will carry 400 pounds or more of payload, and provide 24 hours of self-sustained capability over as much as 20 miles of maneuver. LS3 will weigh no more than 1,250 pounds (including its base weight, fuel and payload of 400 pounds).

Key LS3 program themes are:
(i) Quadruped platform development: design of a deployable walking platform with sufficient payload capacity, range, endurance, and low noise signature for dismounted squad support, while keeping weight and volume scaled to the squad level.

(ii) Walking control: develop control techniques that allow walking, trotting, and running/ bounding and capabilities to jump obstacles, cross ditches, recover from disturbances, and other discrete mobility features.

(iii)User Interface (to include perception technologies): the ability for the vehicle to perceive and traverse its immediate terrain environment autonomously with simple methods of Marine/Soldier control.

Boston Dynamics’ partners on the LS3 program include Bell Helicopter, AAI Corporation, Carnegie Mellon University, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Woodward HRT.
Following this initial LS3 design and build phase, DARPA and the Marine Corps will review the results and determine future program phases that may lead to full LS3 integration and experimentation with operational platforms.

Boston Dynamics builds advanced robots with remarkable behavior: mobility, agility, dexterity and speed. Boston Dynamics uses sensor-based controls and computation to unlock the capabilities of complex mechanisms

RHex is a rugged man-portable robot with extraordinary rough terrain mobility. RHex climbs in rock fields, mud, sand, vegetation, railroad tracks, telephone poles and up slopes and stairways. RHex has a sealed body, making it fully operational in wet weather, muddy and swampy conditions, and it can swim on the surface or dive underwater. RHex's remarkable terrain capabilities have been validated in government-run independent testing.

RHex is controlled remotely from an operator control unit at distances up to 600 meters. A video uplink provides front and rear views from onboard cameras. RHex also uplinks navigational data from onboard compass and GPS and from payload sensors. A downlink allows the operator to drive and operate mission payloads.

Image Credit: Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics is also building robots that can crawl through small pipes and others that can climb walls. 

Boston Dynamics Squishbot 

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