Human or Robot? Harder to Tell In Latest Bipedal Robot PETMAN Video

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Boston Dynamics is no Geppetto and PETMAN no Pinnochio, but someone must have wished on a phosphorous flare—decked out in chem-resistant camo and a dystopic gas mask, this robot couldn’t look more human.

Boston Dynamics is building the bipedal PETMAN (Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin) for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The firm's been putting the previously headless PETMAN robot through its paces for the last several years, teaching it to do push-ups, walk, stretch, squat, and right itself when given a stout shove. PETMAN even perspires and regulates the temperature under its clothes to more closely simulate use by human soldiers.

Though at first glance PETMAN appears to be braced by guy wires, it is self-balancing and only wired externally to draw power. Each new video shows off a more polished bot with a wider range of tricks. (See the latter two videos below for PETMAN's evolution).

Briefly pictured without the suit on in the video, we can see Boston Dynamics has neatly concealed PETMAN’s wild nest of wires under an exoskeleton and fashioned it a head. Taken together, the new PETMAN sans fatigues is reminiscent of I, Robot's Sonny, if a touch less advanced. (For the time being.)

Image Credit: Boston Dynamics/YouTube

Jason Dorrier

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He cut his teeth doing research and writing about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.

Discussion — 17 Responses

  • Robert Schreib April 7, 2013 on 1:39 pm

    Maybe if we put a retractable ‘dinosaur tail’ device in the back of this robot, we could enable it to walk and run without any overhead cables keeping it upright?

    • Jon Williams Robert Schreib April 7, 2013 on 1:51 pm

      The cables are to catch it if it falls so it does as little damage to the prototype as possible if something fails. They are not holding up at any point during these shots.

  • Gorgand Grandor April 7, 2013 on 1:44 pm

    It’s walking in a different way this time. Really lifting its knees high.

  • Shaun O'Rourke April 7, 2013 on 3:25 pm

    Just don’t let SkyNet get their hands on this guy.

  • Dario Impini April 7, 2013 on 3:38 pm

    Terminator. Its coming. No I’m not joking. Marry this thing to artificial intelligence to armed drone philosophy. The future is a scary place.

  • TSCTH April 7, 2013 on 3:45 pm

    I don’t know if Boston Dynamics are exploring the depths of the Uncanny Valley or I’ve just seen to many Sci-Fi flicks with evil robots, but that things is terrifying.

    I’m all for humanoid robots and would be first in line to buy one, but that thing walks like a extremely confident Nazi terminator and scouts its surroundings crouched down like a latex clad actor playing a Xenomorph.
    I would serious surrender in a heartbeat if i had to fight those guys (which could explain why it moves like that).

  • Gareth Thomas April 7, 2013 on 4:13 pm

    So I wonder does Boston Dynamics have the commercial option to develop the robot beyond its initial contract.

    As an autonomous soldier, personal assistant labor robot etc?

  • Athony Moore April 7, 2013 on 4:53 pm

    How much weight would it be able to lift.

  • Ben Fox April 7, 2013 on 6:41 pm

    if these were to replace troops, what would human troops do to make a living?

    • Vector Ben Fox April 7, 2013 on 8:49 pm

      If anyone finds humanoid robots capable of simulating human movement disturbing, wait until you meet some extraterrestrial beings. But, robophobia is simply a symptom of not understanding the nature of what it is that you see. Learn to see yourself as an extraterrestrial or android, then you will see what I mean.

      Imagine that another creature is judging you based upon how you were designed (i.e., your genes) and not upon who you are. How does it make you feel when another human does such a thing to you? You may become offended. You may think the creature/person to be less intellectually evolved. You may even pity it. One thing you probably will not do is actually enjoy the shallow dismissal you were forced to endure by another.

      Regardless whether you believe robots will one day acquire the ability to think as humans, the principle of withholding our shallow dismissal is always applicable.

      • Vector Vector April 7, 2013 on 8:51 pm


        I apologize to Ben for seeming to respond specifically to his comment, but my above comment was a general comment meant for all. I merely accidentally replied instead of posting anew.

  • Joe Wallen II April 7, 2013 on 8:34 pm

    Humans only walk heal to toe when you put thick soled shoes on them.

  • Solomon Terra April 7, 2013 on 8:35 pm

    No, there is -some- tension to some of the overhead cables – it is being balanced and steadied to at least -some- degree by them. The two connected to the shoulders, specifically. Even if I were wrong, it still won’t be impressive until the thing can be seen walking entirely on its own, without even the -appearance- of support cables.

  • anthrobotic April 8, 2013 on 3:17 am

    It can walk on its own.
    PETMAN is being distributed to teams for the DARPA robotic challenge.

    If you wanna get yourself hip to what the DRC is all about, and how PETMAN is all up in that, have a watch of Professor Paul Oh’s “The What, Why, How, Who and When of the DRC (DARPA Robotics Challenge)” –

    -Reno at

  • Tal Lifschitz April 8, 2013 on 8:28 am

    This is the worst thing people can do right now.. governments will get their hands on these and start tearing people down.. if you thought cops were bad who wants to see emotionless killing machines.. this is literally terminator unfolding right in front of our eyes. How does this not scare the guys making this garbage?

    Robotics can be used for a lot of good things (replacing limbs, making life more convenient, helping the elderly).. but human history should teach us enough about rulers’ true nature.

    • Morgan Johnson Tal Lifschitz April 15, 2013 on 11:54 am

      The possibility of machine takeover really doesn’t strike me as a real threat. A lazily placed shotgun slug will tear it into chunks no matter the range. More worried about gene-doped cyborgs.

  • Nick Klamecki April 8, 2013 on 4:24 pm

    OMG give that thing a rifle ?