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Boston Dynamics

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Boston Dynamics is an American robotics research and development company, known for producing numerous robot designs and their ongoing testing in real-world environments and simulated tasks. The company is well-known largely due to the popularity of its YouTube videos where it demonstrates robots performing, often under challenging conditions, with interference by employees.

Located in Waltham, Massachusetts, the company started off as an offshoot of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that developed robots built to move like animals. The goal was to improve robot movement and rough-terrain capabilities. One of their most famous creations is BigDog, a quadruped robot that is made to carry cargo through challenging terrain. BigDog was funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Big Dog is able to bear a 340-pound load while traveling over terrain that wheeled creations would get stuck in. However, DARPA lost interest in that particular project as it found BigDog too loud for tactical use.

Other designs bipedal and quadrupedal robots by Boston Dynamic include:

  • Cheetah - A four-footed robot that gallops at 28 miles per hour.
  • SpotMini - A four-legged robot inspired by canines that is Boston Dynamic’s lightest product, weighing in at 55 pounds.
  • RiSE - A robot that climbs vertical terrain using feet with micro-claws to climb on textured surfaces.
  • Handle - A robot used for research that stands 6.5 feet tall, travels at 9 mph and jumps 4 feet vertically.
  • LittleDog - A small quadruped robot developed for DARPA for research.
  • SandFlea - A small robot capable of jumping 30 feet vertically.
  • Atlas - A 6-foot bipedal humanoid robot designed for a variety of search and rescue tasks.
  • RHex - A robot with six legs and inherently high mobility.
  • PETMAN (Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin) - A bipedal device created for testing chemical protection suits.
  • LS3 (Legged Squad Support System) - A militarized version of BigDog, ruggedized to operate in hot, cold, wet, and dirty environments.

After operating independently since 1992, Boston Dynamics was acquired in 2013 by Google X, a subsidiary Alphabet, Inc. In June 2017, the company was sold to the SoftBank Group in Japan. Recognized as a robotics pioneer and a current leader in the field, Boston Dynamics makes some of the most advanced and tractable current robot designs, capable of navigating among obstacles. Because the robots’ movements can seem more animal-like than those of typical robots, the discrepancy between their artificial appearance and their natural movement can disturb observers, causing the uncanny valley effect.

Watch the SpotMini in action in the video below:

This was last updated in March 2018

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