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ImagePack animals have a long history in the military. The US was reminded of this fact in 2002, when it had to pull in horses and mules to move gear across the Afghanistan wilderness. TACOM responded by giving grants to two robotics companies, Yobotics and Boston Dynamics. Their mission: to produce a mechanical beast of burden.

Marc Raibert is the man behind Boston Dynamics’ effort. This is the same Raibert who founded the MIT Leglab. He was the Leglab director until 1995. Raibert is now the president of Boston Dynamics and manager of the BigDog project.

BigDog, New Scientist reports this past week, can now carry 120 lb, trot at 3.3 mph, and climb slopes up to 35-degrees. Not all at the same time, though. Its big, tough, fast, and loud. Very, very loud, for BigDog relies upon a two-stroke gasoline engine for power. Raibert explains that this engine is a stop-gap measure.

"You can strap an internal combustion engine on its back. But until battery technology catches up, you’re not going to have a stealthy robot, because it’ll be pumping out 110 decibels when it’s running down the street," he said.

Not quite field ready, it should be stressed that BigDog is a proof-of-concept. The main innovations here are size, speed, and balance. In these, BigDog succeeds. Watch the video (28 MB) and see for yourself. BigDog handles very rough terrain and even maintains balance when kicked. Very neat.

Has anyone heard how Yorobotics’ project is doing?

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