Boston Dynamics – an engineering company specializing in development of robotics with headquarters in Waltem, Massachussets. The company is famous for creation of unique robots for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the USA. Its humanoid robots are the first robots in the world that can retain balance and don’t fall while performing the most difficult motions. They are even able to balance standing on just one leg. The company also produces and develops for-footed robots, capable to carry heavy loads, jump and even climb the slopes for military purposes.
The story of Boston Dynamics dates back to 1977, when its founder and president Marc Raibert grounded in its thesis construction of limbs, ideally matching for movements of robots. Subsequently this work was taken as the basis of many creations of the company. Riberts launched Boston Dynamics in 1992 along with a group of engineers from Massachusets University. The company first became famous in 2005, when it had introduced to the public its four-footed robot BigDog. It has been developed at request of the the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In 2013, corporation Google purchased Boston Dynamics for $500 million.
US Army needed a robot that would help soldiers carry equipment in the area, where wheeled or tracked vehicles will not be able to pass. BigDog is able to carry a load of up to 150 kg at speeds of up to 6.4 km/h. The robot is unique for its steadiness - it can climb slopes up to 35 degrees. The first model of a four-footed mechanical "animal" was made by Boston Dynamics in 2008. Features of the robot impressed DARPA management and in 2010 they signed a contract for the sum of $32 million with the aim to develop a "fighting" robot variant which was first named AlphaDog.
Several years of work of Boston Dynamics specialists brought results - these robots for the first time took part in the exercise of Marine Corps units. However, the internal combustion engine, which drives an electrical generator, hydraulic system of the robot and some other systems produce quite a lot of noise, which is totally unacceptable in actual combat conditions. During all the time specialists of Boston Dynamics could not manage to solve the most important problem of this robot - excessive noise emitted by it during operation. Realizing the futility of further attempts to struggle with this problem, management of the Office of the Pentagon's advanced research programs DARPA and Boston Dynamics decided to discontinue any further work on this project and create a more quiet model – the Spot.
It is smaller and quieter than its predecessor, although it is less stable. Unlike BigDog, Spot is equipped with an electric motor and a battery. It is not a cargo robot, but it can be used for search operations. Robot Spot was developed jointly by experts from Google and Boston Dynamics, it has successfully passed the general military training with US Marines. Spot is quite agile, able to move very quickly on a flat surface and holds great balance, even if it strongly pushed.
The US military often test different innovations on the battlefield. For example, self-driven GUSS car, which was developed by TORC Robotics, or an amphibious drone GuardBot. No wonder, that the military were interested by Spot robot’s capabilities and decided to test it themselves. Experts in robotics from the military agency DARPA took Spot to a marine military base at Quantico, Virginia. At this base, the robot had to go through fire shoulder to shoulder with the soldiers in several simulated military combat situations. Spot climbed rocky hills, wade through the thicket and oriented in the conditions of city streets. Also the robot tried itself in the role of a scout, examining the situation before soldiers will enter the building.
One of the key advantages of the robot Spot is its ability to be controlled remotely, without any wires. Control is carried out using a conventional game controller on the Xbox consoles, connected to a laptop. While the robot explores the potentially hazardous area, the operator can be located at a distance of 150 meters. The robot also has an integrated autopilot function, so the operator does not necessarily need to control every step. Spot keeps own predetermined path and overcomes obstacles.
Cheetah was the first robot in a "cat" a line of Boston Dynamics products. Its development was also financed by DARPA. It can reach speeds of 45.06 km/h (the record for 2012) due to the flexible back. Cheetah learned to jump over obstacles on the run and skillfully land back on the ground. From the outside it looks just unbelievable, considering the fact that a few years ago and so it was difficult to imagine. Earlier, this robot broke the speed record set by Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, speeding up to 45.5 kilometers per hour. However Cheetah could not escape far, as it was fed by stationary hydraulic installation.
The robot also learned to autonomously jump over obstacles up to 40 centimeters tall. To achieve this, the scientists had to supply it with LIDAR laser system, through which Cheetah sees obstacles on its path and takes deicision to overcome them. The robot estimates in real time the force that must be applied on its limbs in order to jump over an obstacle and then land back to the surface.
A year later, the company introduced a stand-alone version of the Cheetah robot – the WildCat. This sprinter scout develops a speed of 25.7 km/h and, unlike its predecessor, can move on open terrain. The new model is equipped with an autonomous source of energy - the internal combustion engine, it is able to run at a trot, gallop and turn around. The developers promise that WildCat will be able to accelerate up to 80 km/h over rough terrain.
WildCat robot (M3 according to DARPA classification) is much like BigDog (LS3) – a great machine, capable of transporting up to 180 kg of cargo. But LS3 should provide maximum power and stability, and the main task of WildCat is to run fast.
In 2016 Boston Dynamics has introduced a new humanoid robot - Atlas. It can move indoors and on uneven terrain, and in case of a fall Atlas is able to independently get on its feet. 175-centimeter robot weighs about 82 kilograms. Atlas is equipped with a set of sensors. The robot is set into motion by means of a hydraulic system. Atlas is able to open the door, move on snow-covered terrain and lift the 4.5-kilogram boxes.
The robot is able to keep the balance even in the most difficult situations and constantly monitor the target. For example if to move the box, when Atlas has bent down to take it, the robot will straighten and come to the box again. Atlas can easily stand up after a fall. The skill to fall “correctly” and then rise is quite complicated for today's robots. Even the most advanced humanoid robots that participated in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, experience problems with stability.
In 2009, Boston Dynamics introduced a humanoid robot, which was developed for testing the clothing for military organizations. To test the elasticity and strength of chemical protection suits the robot performs typical actions like running, jumping, crawling, squatting and climbing, which may take place in the real life of a scientist on the road, a lifeguard or a military chemist. When the project was first announced, it seemed too incredible to be true. However, already in 2011, Boston Dynamics has introduced PETMAN (Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin), which demonstrated miracles of the realistic motion, which is usually peculiar to robots from Japan.
Despite the fact that PETMAN is connected to a wire, it balances much more naturally than the other two-legged robots. In addition, it is covered with a special material resembling human skin. Located under the "skin", the sensors are capable not only to determine whether there is a leak in the suit, but also monitor the microclimate under the clothes. The task is to thoroughly recreate the conditions for a suit that may affect the person wearing it. PETMAN already makes a significant contribution to the future saving of lives from chemical threats. Financing of the PETMAN project is done by the Department of Chemical and Biological Security and a number of other organizations.
This little robot does not look like an impressive machine, but its ability to jump from the spot to a height of 10 meters is one of the most amazing abilities of robots ever existed. Work on the project SandFlea began from the model Precision Urban Hopper, which was created in close collaboration of Boston Dynamics with National Laboratory Sandia. The demonstrated robot prototype is a small motorized platform on four wheels with a high cross. When the machine approaches an insurmountable obstacle that it cannot run over on its wheels, the robot stops, rises to the rear pair of wheels and jumps up the air to land already over the obstacle.
Pneumatic piston allows the robot to jump to a height of about 10 meters with very accurate movements. For example, if the machine is given the task to jump in the window within reach, Sand Flea will easily do it. As an energy source, the piston uses cylinders with compressed carbon dioxide. One cylinder is enough for 25 leaps, then it is replaced. The robot is designed to be used for intelligence purposes in a hilly area, for example, in Afghanistan.
The most difficult point for the developers of Sand Flea is to ensure its stability during the flight, however they not specify exactly how exactly this problem is solved. In future, the model will be equipped with a video camera and a wireless module that can transmit images from the robot on the remote control. This is useful not only for military intelligence, but also for carrying out rescue missions, connected with difficult conditions, as well as a danger to the health and lives of people.
RHex robot looks like a smaller copy of the BigDog, but the idea in the core of its creation of was structure and movement of the limbs of an ordinary cockroach. It is not just another robot; its peculiarity is primarily in the fact that it is almost an "all-terrain machine." With the combination of wheels, legs and paddles, it can move both on the land and water. RHex will not be stopped by mud, sand, a hill or such obstacle as railways. The bobot is radio controlled within 600 meters. Visible/IR cameras and illuminators provide front and rear views from the robot.
Legs of the robot do not have joints and represent convex springs which are rotated around their axes. Rhex can run at speeds of up to 2.7 meters per second with a body length of about half a meter and overcomes almost 4 kilometers in a highly rugged terrain on one battery charge. One of the latest achievements of Rhex - is jumping. It jumps over the gulf of 50 cm width up and 60 cm with a running (or rather, with jumping), jumps on the obstacle of 29 cm height, and clings to the slope of up to 73 cm height, and then climbs up to it from a hanging position. Rhex project started in 1998 on the initiative of DARPA, which invested $8 million in its development.
Rise – is a six-footed robot, capable to climb on the vertical obstacles: walls, trees and fences. In order to move forward it uses legs with micro hooks and a tail, it can alter its position depending on the curves of the surface. Rise has 0.25m width and 2kg weight. It moves with a speed 0.3 m/s. Each leg is controlled by 2 electric motors. On-board computer provides control of the feet, connection and processing of sensor data.
LittleDog is a four-footed robot designed for research on learning locomotion. Scientists at leading institutions use LittleDog to probe the fundamental relationships among motor learning, dynamic control, perception of the environment, and rough-terrain locomotion. LittleDog has four legs, each powered by three electric motors. The legs have a large range of motion. The robot is strong enough for climbing and dynamic locomotion gaits. The onboard PC-level computer does sensing, actuator control and communications. LittleDog's sensors measure joint angles, motor currents, body orientation and foot/ground contact. Onboard lithium polymer batteries allow for 30 minutes of continuous operation without recharging. Wireless communications and data logging support remote operation and data analysis.
FEEDBACKS IN MEDIA:
"It’s not easy standing on two legs. Humans, who are fairly good at it, start crawling on four limbs, then have an entire developmental stage named after how wobbly they are when walking. Like toddlers, bipedal robots are in an intermediate stage, with some stunning success and comical failures. This week, the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) tested the ability of a Boston Dynamics built Atlas robot to balance on one leg. It worked! The Atlas robot is standing on a plywood board less than an inch thick. The balance algorithm came from the IHMC, and relied on data from sensors built into the Atlas robot. Balancing on a thin blank is no easy task. Fortunately, even when Atlas gets knocked down, it has a pretty good record of getting back up again", Popular Science
"Boston Dynamics, one of the leaders in commercial robot design, have unveiled their latest invention: the SpotMini. This robot is one of their smallest and most agile robots yet, and is designed to navigate and work in tight household environments. The SpotMini is modeled after dogs (hence the name Spot) and has a fully articulated arm that extends off its back. The arm is sensitive enough to take a glass from the sink and puts it in the dishwasher. The other marvel of its arm is the solid state gyro, which allows the end of the arm to stay almost perfectly still while the body moves in all manner of directions.
The viability of household robots like Spot will undoubtedly lie in their ability to work autonomously. The more Spot can do on its own, without the need for human control via remote, the more useful it will be to the general public. That said, even without a great deal of autonomy, the sheer mechanical ability of Spot would likely make it a huge help for people with physical disabilities who have difficulty performing daily household tasks. SpotMini is not commercially available, but it represents the incredible improvements Boston Dynamics is making, as this robot seems their most practical one yet.", Paste Magazine