petman-robotWhoa!  I am totally blown away by the just released video of Boston Dynamics’ Petman bipedal humanoid robot (check it out later in this post).  Bipedal humanoid robots have been in earnest development for the last decade, and there are several pretty solid success stories out there already.  But now Boston Dynamics, maker of the famous Big Dog robot,  has jumped into the ring in a big way with its Petman.  The field of bipedal humanoid robots is literally exploding before us.

With Petman’s ability to withstand a a decent kick or hit from the side while walking it is clear that robots are now capable of balance and control that nearly matches a human on flat terrain.  In the next decade we can expect bipedal humanoid robots to conquer more than flat terrain, and also to bump up their speed to full out running.  Robots that not only  match, but exceed human ability to walk and run in your lifetime?  Yes – that is assuming you have another 10, maybe 20 years ahead of you!

First lets just cut to the video and save the commentary for after:

As we can see from the video, the Petman’s walking style and ability is eerily human.  Apparently the walking technology from the famous quadruped Big Dog robot has been transferred over to Petman, rapidly accelerating the development timeline for the project.  The heel to toe walking style and gait is just like a human, and the robot reaches a respectable speed of 3.2mph.  Its the first video of a bipedal walking robot that really has my mind racing, almost scared, that the vision of robot supremacy is racing towards us.  Its like the uncanny valley, but for walking instead of for its typical instance of emotion or behavior.

m2v2-robot
The humanoid m2v2 robot from Bucknell

The only data available from Boston Dynamics about this DARPA military funded Petman is from a website that is pretty sparse on information.  Apparently Petman is “anthropomorphic robot for testing chemical protection clothing used by the US Army.”  Am I the only one who thinks that is a bunch of PR bullshit?  Do they really need to build the most advanced humanoid robot to date simply to test chemical protection clothing?  According to Boston Dynamics the Petman robot is slated for completion in 2011.  Watching this robot in action, I can imagine a public backlash of fear and doubt creeping in, especially as its abilities dramatically improve over the next 2 years of the project.  Perhaps labeling the robot as a “chemical protection tester” is more acceptable to the public than its real label of “badass humanoid robot that can whoop your ass”.

Although the Petman humanoid is awesome, lets not forget some of the other impressive efforts that are also out there right now.  The ASIMO, HRP-4C, and Toyota humanoid robots each offer their own solid performance in the field.

Bucknell University last year received $1.2 million in federal funding for research and development of military bipedal humanoid robots.  A detailed description of their work is available, and they have released an informative video on youtube.  They do have a pretty awesome looking pic of the robot embedded to the left.

Probably the best I have seen other than Petman is the Dexter robot from Anybots, which in some ways, such as jumping, looks to exceed the Petman in capability.  Check out these awesome videos of Dexter in action:

From Petman to Dexter, bipedal humanoid robots are on the rise.  It is common for people to say that “nothing is happening in robotics” because to the general public these robots are hidden away in the labs with “chemical protection tester” as their designation.  Yet the truth is starkly different – robots are advancing at a fantastic rate.  The Petman video is one of the more vivid reminders in recent memory.  The robots are indeed coming…by foot!

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