Imagine a battlefield.
Your back is pressed against the wall of a crumbling and shaking building, dust collects in your face, and your ears ring from repetitive explosions that never stop. As you tuck your head in from the bullets that zip past you, you look through squinted eyelids and see something galloping closer and closer:
This little baby is Boston Dynamics’ “WildCat”, a machine part of their “Cheetah” series, and the fastest legged robot in the world that can run at 28.3 mph while it’s tethered on a treadmill. On flat terrain, with no tethers, the robot can reach speeds up to 16 mph. Humans can run up to 5 mph, but you can probably get occasional bursts up to 12 to 15 mph with all that adrenaline pumping in your arteries.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same people that brought you the internet, is funding the robot developers over at Boston Dynamics through their Maximum Mobility and Manipulation program.
Boston Dynamics says the Cheetah has “an articulated back that flexes back and forth on each step, increasing in stride and running speed, much like an animal does.”
Cheetah is not the first, and definitely not the last.
On March 17th, 2008, Boston Dynamics revealed its first video on YouTube of Big Dog, a four-legged robot that rebalances itself when kicked, throws cinderblocks, and carries itself over hills.
Below, you’ll find the Legged Squadron Support System (LS3). It can carry 400lbs of payload, travel 20 miles without the need to refuel, and can be operated through voice commands.
DARPA gave Boston Dynamics $10 million in funding the LS3, and wants the next-gen to be, “an enhanced version of the LS3 system with increased reliability and usability, enhanced survivability against small arms fire and a quiet power supply to support stealthy tactical operations.” The work is expected to be finished by March 31st, 2015.
This is PETMAN, the bipedal robot. Boston Dynamics says it’s an “anthropomorphic robot designed for testing chemical protection clothing. Natural agile movement is essential for PETMAN to simulate how a soldier stresses protective clothing under realistic conditions.”
Familiar with videogames? Because this is all starting to sound familiar.
In a serious instance of life-mimicking-art, Hideo Kojima, creator of video game series Metal Gear Solid (MGS) has given a glimpse of what the future on the battlefield holds. The robots you see in this video are called “Gekko”, and before any word of Big Dog came out, videogames like MGS, in a sense, predicted what the future holds on the battlefield.
Beyond the striking similarities of Metal Gear Solid's mechas and the Boston Dynamics' robots, Gekko actually bleeds, much like PETMAN which “simulates human physiology” actually sweats.
I would not doubt that Kojima knows the real history of war and our future.
War demands legs, not wheels.
Check out more robots at Boston Dynamics' official website.