In this article we take a look at five scary, nightmarish yet marvellous robots that have been designed by the bright minds at Boston Dynamics, a research and design contractor for DARPA.
Robots are a key to mankind’s future. Not only do they replace our workforce with efficient, non-violent and non-striking labour, they’re also easier to maintain and train and can be re-purposed for many roles in the future. While we haven’t yet reached the point where Skynet goes online and controls everything and sends the Terminators after us, these ingenious designs are going to be assisting us to go places and do things we can’t.
One possible application that can apply to any of these robots is serving in search and rescue operations. Paramedics risk their lives when rescuing people from remote locations like mountain tops, snow avalanches and underground tunnels. Occasionally there’re some burning buildings, accident scenes and war zones mixed in as well. While our bodies are limited by size and the laws of physics, we can bend or work around them with these inventions.
Boston Dynamic’s Cheetah
The Cheetah is incredibly impressive and has allowed the engineers at Boston Dynamics to study motion more accurately. The Cheetah they’ve developed can switch from a run to a gallop at 18mph (28.97kph) and requires some assistance to run on its own. Its a marvellous invention, but it appears that this is the embodiment of that age-old saying, “Learn to walk before you can run.”
The Cheetah has a top speed of 28.3mph (45.54kph) and is a bit faster than the world’s fastest human runner, Usain Bolt.
Boston Dynamic’s Sand Flea
The Sand Flea is inspired by the real deal flea, which is know for being one of the best jumpers in the animal kingdom, able to jump 18cm vertically and 33cm horizontally in one movement. It is a four-wheeled robot with a spring-loaded launcher on either side of its belly that allows it to jump, unaided, on to the roof of a single-storey building.
Engineers envision using the flea on rocky terrain in places where people can’t go. The small footprint of the robot means it can also move around nearly unseen to the human eye, because it’s just out of your peripheral vision. It reminds me of those cars in the Playstation game RollCage, where your car could flip upside-down and it would still function normally.
Boston Dynamic’s RHex
RHex is a strange robot – meeting it in the dark would be pretty terrifying. It uses curved limbs that can invert themselves to travel in almost any direction and like the Sand Flea, can work normally when flipped over. RHex’s special ability is that it can move around on any terrain unaided and its slim profile along with water-proofed body means it can be used for cave exploration and rescue operations to carry supplies inside it.
RHex can jump small distances, but its movement and speed are limited by its limbs and its considerably bigger bulk. It kind of looks like a mixture of a centipede with a duck-billed platypus.
Boston Dynamic’s RISE
No, it’s nothing to do with that XBox One exclusive developed by Crytek that pretty much looks like Call of Duty set in ancient times. RISE is one truly scary robot that can climb walls in the same way as Spider-Man. Unlike Peter Parker, however, it looks a lot like a giant scorpion. It has six legs with claws in its feet for grip, along with a tail that also acts as a stabiliser to allow the robot to mount obstacles and scale walls to get to the top of a building.
The biggest thing about RISE is that it looks scary. I don’t know anyone who would want to touch it or be near it once they see it and know what it can do. RISE’s possible applications are a little different, potentially allowing it to survey buildings that may be unsafe for humans and for spying on people. Engineers say they can put suckers on RISE to allow it to scale walls, but they’re still figuring out how they can get the machine to switch between the two.
Boston Dynamics’s Big Dog
Have you ever seen Dog from Half-Life 2? Well, meet Big Dog, which is designed to be a companion robot for soldiers out in the field and for hikers who need extra packing space. Bog Dog’s unique ability is that it’s able to regain balance far faster than any other robot out there. It looks like two Metal Gears sandwiched together, or perhaps a robotic llama – you decide!
Big Dog can carry loads that are too heavy for humans and can navigate rocky terrain, steep hills, icy surfaces and obstacles that can hinder its movement, like a giant pile of bricks. Its only a matter of time before this morphs into a mechanised horse and someone calls it Butt Stallion. They may or may not paint it to look like diamonds, or give it the power of speech, the ability to walk upright and hand it a futuristic blunderbuss.