Cave Canem: the Robot Dawg for MOUT


I like dogs. Always have. A house without a pet is not a home? Bullshit. A house without a dog is not a home. Now they're building dogs we'll eventually take into places like the Hindu Kush, possibly instead of a humvee, certainly in the place of a donkey, backbreaking ruck or indentured servant. It's wicked cool. Me and Slim have watched the video a dozen times since our buddy Mark the Ninja sent us an e-mail about it from the depths of his DC hidey-hole.Honestly, this thing is more like a techie's metal donkey than a dog. Nobody north of Tijuana wants a donkey curled up in their bed or bringing them the paper though, which I'm confident is why they named it what they did.Billed as "the most advanced quadruped robot on Earth" and funded by DARPA, Boston Dynamics' Big Dog is just one of several robots under development. It walks, runs, climbs rough terrain, carries more weight than an 0341 and won't piss on the floor. Cyberfido runs on a gasoline engine that "drives a hydraulic actuation system", which I'm guessing is a little more complicated than a self-propelled pull-start mower (at least a little bit). It walks a little bit like an Imperial ATAT and sounds like a pissed off remote control airplane, but the potential for this thing is awesome.

According to the Boston Dynamics website, "BigDog's legs are articulated like an animals, and have compliant elements that absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next. BigDog is the size of a large dog or small mule, measuring 1 meter long, 0.7 meters tall and 75 kg weight.Here's a video:

BigDog has an on-board computer that controls locomotion, servos the legs and handles a wide variety of sensors. BigDogs control system manages the dynamics of its behavior to keep it balanced, steer, navigate, and regulate energetics as conditions vary. Sensors for locomotion include joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load, a laser gyroscope, and a stereo vision system. Other sensors focus on the internal state of BigDog, monitoring the hydraulic pressure, oil temperature, engine temperature, rpm, battery charge and others."

I don't know as of this writing whether BigDog is a two-stroke or four-stroke engine, whether it used dilithium crystals or how many gigs of memory it has. Presumably BigDog's processing suite is duotronic rather than positronic. Unconfirmed rumors allege that Boston Dynamics pulled all Windows Vista operating systems from the prototype BigDogs after they suffered repetitive epileptic fits during task performance reviews.

BigDog can carry about 20 pounds and reach speeds up to 4 mph (which is certainly fast enough to keep up with some poor bastard of an 11C trying to climb the Ghilzai plateau, and certainly faster than you can drive through traffic in Tikrit), climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rubble, and carries a 340 lb load. BigDog is part of a program intended to create robots with "rough terrain mobility that can take them anywhere on Earth that people can go." Marc Raibert, the founder of Boston Dynamics, says of BigDog's locomotion, "Legs can go places that wheels and tracks can't go, and there are lots of those places on Earth."

From what's been accomplished so far, it seems like they're well on their way to reaching this goal. I'm sure further testing remains. Certainly I'd have questions for such a machine once it went operational. How would it do in the heat and grit of the Dasht-e Kavir? Could it ford the Khash-rud River with the grunts if they had to wade across? Could a version be built to withstand small arms fire as it humped a load of AT-4s across the street to resupply the grunts clearing houses?

The possible uses for such a machine are by no means bound by military application, of course. Think of them working with the Forestry Service fighting wildfires, or carrying life saving equipment for search and rescue teams.

I think it would be funny to have BigDog walk the dog so I don't have to, but then again I'm pretty lazy. I back my damn car down the driveway to check the mail and I never run unless someone is chasing me.

There's a lot more about BigDog and his cousins on the web, if you're interested. BigDog Beta even has a MySpace page. The official Boston Dynamics website is right here.

WARNING: Do not go to RedTube and type in BigDog, you'll be grossed out.

That's it for now. Thanks again to Mark the Ninja.-- Swingin' Richard

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