New BigDog video doesn’t fail to impress

Those following the evolution of quadrupedal assist robots will recognize the specimen seen above as a relative of BigDog. This is AlphaDog, one of the latest prototypes in Boston Dynamics’ Legged Squadron Support Systems program. It’s designed to carry 400 pounds of payload, which explains the disc weights seen on either side of the torso. Like its diminutive sibling, LittleDog, it’s able to take on all kinds of terrain. Here it’s being tested with boxes full of rocks.

The robot is capable of picking itself up and getting under way again without intervention. The first video after the break shows test footage where the robot starts nearly upside-down and has no trouble righting itself again. When we looked in on a biped version back in 2009 we also linked to the BigDog prototype which showed developers trying to tip it over mid stride. This version has the same balance resiliency.

Also embedded after the break is a video showing the evolution of the design over about seven years of development.


Development evolution

[Thanks Eric via IEEE Spectrum]


  1. eresonance says:

    That thing is the size of a horse! I’d like to see someone try to ride it, looks like it’s packing quite a bit of weight on it so it should be able to hold up an adult.

  2. John says:

    Big dog is cool from a tech standpoint, but as a product it’s insane. Not good insane, stupid insane. It’s too damn complicated to be any use, and wouldn’t be anything near field serviceable.

    I mean, who’s funding this thing?

    • Kiwisaft says:

      DARPA of course
      it’s the early version of an AT-AT

    • Suidae says:

      It’s hard to know if the tech is viable until the research is done.

      That’s why it’s being funded by a major research agency.

      As for ‘too complicated’, that really depends on how you deploy and maintain it. As a consumer product, yeah, probably. However, as a piece of military gear? Maybe not, militaries are much better at knowing how to take care of useful gear, if it it’s complicated and finicky.

    • USBryan says:

      Look at some of the other things people said would be too complicated to use in a BF situation?
      I bet the first caveman to bring a stick to a rock fight was looked at crazy.

      “Hey Grock what are you going to do if that thing brakes?”

    • ragman says:

      These guys came out of the origional MIT Leg Lab

      Human bodies are far more complex and military seem to be able to ‘feild service’ them pretty well when they break….but then, everything has a limit don’it.

    • Larry says:

      To complex, I dont think so, I found this link , Im going to have a go at some stage, looks like a great project :)

    • David says:

      It’s not the idea of a mechanical donkey thats the point here. Alot of work is going into the programming and design to have a stable walking 4 legged device. Once they have this nailed down, Im sure the size and design will be scrapped and the technology will be scaled and matched will other technologies to make a silent, uber strong walking machine, or possibly a “fly-by-wire” exo-suit.

  3. wethecom says:

    not to take away from this being very impressive and some what old -the music is in place of it being very noisy- winding sound like an rc car -search google for videos if it it is awesome

    • Jack says:

      I’am kind of disappointed the new one doesn’t make that hell-scream sound the old videos had. Good to see that was on their list of things to improve though.

      • tony says:

        I think that’s because the Alpha Dog is tethered so it doesn’t need to generate its own power. That noise you are referring too can be heard in the big dog on ice video on you tube and sounds a lot like a two stroke engine to run the hydraulic pump.

  4. L1nk3D says:

    Armor it, and mount an M134 on it with an automated targeting system. THEN I’ll be impressed. Right now it would have no way to defend itself in a military setting.

    • austin says:

      its not supposed to be defending itself, its a beast of burden for carrying heavy loads.
      your mentality of “armour it and attach a gun to it” just reminds me of the movie “pentagon wars” the robot is protected by the people around it who, thanks to this thing, dont have to carry 400 pounds of equipment on their back.

      im glad to see they have gotten rid of that annoying screeching noise. if they can get this thing totally silent, able to keep a pace of at least 15-20 mph fully loaded, and cheap enough to give one to at least every squad (even nicer if one per soldier) this thing could have a long service record. until it uplinks with the automated attack drones, the yet to be developed repair drones, and just get rid of the flesh bags around them.

  5. Cpt. Obvious says:

    What a bunch of dicks, its strolling happily along and then those bastards just shove it… excellent recovery algorithms though.

    • CRJEEA says:

      Should be classed as abuse. In years to come when AI’s have won their freedom this will be one of thoughs moments they look back on in court… -all joking aside great project can’t help but shudder at the prospect of 1000 of these armoured and covered in weapons with apache style targeting systems coming galloping over the brow of a hill.
      Personally it’s a great “stride” forward to creating robotic seeing eye dogs :D

  6. Renee says:

    When the Army was planning on switching from the BDU uniform to the ACU there was concern about going from buttons to velco because the sound might be too loud in some tactical scenarios.

    Yet this thing is crazy loud? I mean the purpose of this thing is obviously not for use in an area where vehicle traffic is a non-issue so I only see it being used for foot patrols but would the sound be an issue?

    Very cool tech but I don’t see this being used that much.

  7. Mark A says:

    Quick, call the vet.
    It’s got no head.

    A dog with no nose.
    How dose it smell? Awful.

  8. Promethius says:

    This seems way overengineered, I’m reminded of the million dollar space pen. Let’s get the robot mule concept working with wheels before we get saucy.

  9. Leithoa says:

    I don’t think this platform is being designed to mount weapons to. As you saw in the one clip it’s more like a member of the team. It would replace pack mules for the mountain warfare units. It’s a system that seems to be designed in that role.
    Carry the units gear maybe mount some fancy coms/satellite gizmos to, but not as a stand alone weapons platform. Yet.

    I’m sure once they start production scale and deployment a stand alone weapons platform version will have been started. As for now it’s a glorified pack mule

    • Thopter says:

      I’m seeing it more as a speedy automated ambulance to get wounded soldiers back to the medics as soon as possible. Strap the gurney on top and have it sprint back to base.

      • Timujin says:

        No, no. You’re both wrong. To defeat the enemy we have to become the enemy so we’re adopting Al Qaeda strategies and strapping bombs to them. Allah Ackbar!!

        The reality is that the military would use it for a lot of different purposes. The ground medivac idea would be great since it’s about the length of a man and could dash in and out with wounded. It will probably be mainly used to carry a LOT of extra ammo, tech, and provisions and the occaisional reconnaissance. That would make units more independent/capable and lessen the burden on the supply chain.

  10. fotoflojoe says:

    Anyone ever read “Fahrenheit 451″?

    • Rob says:

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to think of that. However, it seems you could run faster than this if it were chasing you with a needle-filled mouth. As for outlasting it? Maybe not.
      I love the concept, but who steers it?

  11. Dimitri Schreiber says:

    Dang, I didn’t think about that. It will be cool but scary if they become like the hound in that book.

  12. Hirudinea says:

    I’ve seem somthing like this before, its called a horse!

  13. Leithoa says:

    Horses suck in mountainous terrain though. But your points is valid. Mules work just fine and so what if they get killed the cost to replace them has got to be less than the budget for this projects.

    On the other hand it’s scientific progress. sure right now using a semi-autonomous quadroped is overkill and akin to using an arduino to make an LED blink but they’ve gotta start somewhere and get someone to foot the bill

    • Tane says:

      Problems with mules:
      * They can only carry around 90kg of luggage
      * Soldiers would need a mule *each*, that’s a lot of mules
      * They need to be fed regularly if there’s not enough local vegetation
      * You can’t stash a mule under a tarp for a few months and expect it to work at the end of it
      * They don’t come with optional plate armour
      * They don’t come in wildly different sizes
      * They can’t remember and follow long lists of instructions
      * You can’t order them around via satellite
      * They smell. :P

    • Larry says:

      elephants are way better :P

    • bob says:

      Yeah! Mules in planes! Great idea! I wonder why it’s not done more often?

  14. The research gained here (ie, the balancing systems), would almost certainly be applied to lighter models too.

    This also has a lot of applications well outside the miltary – any situation where you need to carry or scout over irregular tarrien.
    A horse isnt too good in a forest, for example – and it cant easily be trained to film an area and come back.

    Imagine this sweeping for mines, or petroling an area as a scout.
    Probably usefull for any disaster rescue work too. Depending on its strength, you might be even to fit it with something to lift and remove rubble in places. (quicker to deploy then a crane, stronger then a human)

    Long term, if they can no dought get it lighter, this sort of tech would be very usefull for exploration of mars or otheer planets. Far suppiour to wheels, that tend to get stuck.
    Self-righting and good balancing would allow faster movement too.
    Insanely impressive though the mars rovers were, they really didnt go very far.

    I suspect you could also build bigger models to help with deforestation. Think of an improved version of this;

    Finaly, its almost certainly going to be very usefull tech to kill the persky humans when us robots rise u….uhum…forget I said that.

    • Ted says:

      Umm, obvious question: Why not just use a dog? Or a mule, or horse?

    • Dax says:

      The reason why the Mars rovers have to use wheels instead of legs is because of mechanical complexity and reliability issues with having so many motors and joints, and the energy budget.

      They still haven’t mastered the passive walking locked knee, which would allow the beast to move or stand still without expending energy on keeping itself up. Any horse-like creature can do it, just like we can do it, but keeping dynamic balance without constant active control is too complex for modern algorithms. That’s the reason why robots like Asimo walk like they had just shat their pants.

      You try walking with bent knees for any lenght and you’ll notice why it’s not a very optimal mode of locomotion. You wouldn’t be able to power the robot for any meaningful lenght of time without constant resupply.

  15. hunter says:

    A replacement for the electric wheelchair… that’s the most obvious use for this machine.

    Lots of people who use wheelchairs would love to go hiking on rough trails.

    Unfortunately, since this is a military project, I can also see severely injured soldiers getting sent back into service.

    Leg’s blown off? Nope, you don’t get to go home. They stick you on one of these things and send you back to the front lines.

  16. Leithoa says:

    What hunter has just described is the ‘dragoon’ unit in the original starcraft :) Refinished with todays finest technology give that solder a Mk19 instead of an M16/M4.
    Even the original ‘dog’ model could be used as a heavy weapons platform. I’m sure the SAW gunner in the platoon would welcome the assistance mobile cover. Imagine dog with all their packs and supplies lashed to its sides and a machine gun mounted to its back for a stable platform.

  17. RosscoInOshawa says:

    I would love it if the “Dog” got itself back up after being kicked and proceeded to put the boots (paws?) to the person that kicked it. Interesting technology, amazing algorithms but its all in controlled situations so far. Air drop it somewhere and covertly follow it as it finds its way out. Then I’ll be impressed.

  18. joe says:

    Why not just use a mule / donkey ?

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