Robot Leaps Uncanny Valley on Backward Knees

We’ve covered a ton of Boston Dynamics robots but this is the second one in a row that has shown a departure from what a lot of people’s notion of an ‘advanced’ robot should look like. It’s a cellphone camera clip of a video played at a conference, but at least it isn’t vertical video — kudos to [juvertson]. At about 3:40 seconds into the video you get a good look “Handle” at a four-limbed robot with backwards joints and wheel.

This design makes a lot of sense and it’s good to see Boston Dynamics thinking about unique robot kinematics alongside the realities of motion. The result is something that appears neither human nor animal — it’s definitely not natural. Despite the presenter’s assertion that this will be nightmare-inducing, we think it’s the opposite, since it doesn’t tweak that string in your brain that cries “predator”.

Obviously this is what we’d call a self-balancer. But two-wheels-plus-rigid-frame it is not. The articulated lower limbs allow it to shift its mass over the wheels. The upper limbs play their part in balancing, at one point acting in the same way a figure skater’s arms would during a spin. And its dexterity in hopping over an obstacle is only made better by [juvertson’s] commentary. This is a really good balance between purely wheeled and purely humanoid designs and a nice addition to the evolution of robotics.

Boston Dynamics, we’re huge fans of your work here at Hackaday. We’d love to stop by for a tour to interview your engineers and talk all things about the future of robotics. Let us know if this is a possibility!

[via /r/futurology]

32 thoughts on “Robot Leaps Uncanny Valley on Backward Knees

  1. There’s nothing particularly odd about knees that face backwards. Sure, the average horse or tapir doesn’t have wheels to move around, but many four-legged herbivores have knees that face backwards. If anything, this robot looks like a bucking horse on wheels.

    Still pretty cool, though.

    1. Disagree. It’s still creepy. Most of these robots are technically very interesting but the uncanny valley effect is still pretty extreme here. It is definitely tweaking some strings here though it is unclear if any contemporary movies have touched on this specific type of robot motion or physical arrangement?

      1. For me, the creepiest part is more the lack of organic movement, rather than the form. As far as form goes, I just see an odd-toed ungulate. The wheels that negate the need for walking legs, plus the speed at which movement stops and starts, is a different matter. But that applies to all robots.

      1. Nope, those are actually analogous to a heel. Chicken legs are actually the shins, between knee and heel. Chicken thighs are the thighs, between hip and knee joints. Look up Digitigrade and Plantigrade.

    1. Hmm, well, with the wheels on the legs I can sort of see a resemblance…..

      Though with the smaller limbs in front I found myself thinking of that robot from the Lost in Space movie.

    1. The way tech is exploding right now you won’t need mobility scooters, We will all have robot’s that go shopping for us along with our drone drop off systems like the one’s Amazon seem to be building and trying to corner the market with.

  2. Boston Dynamics has a long history of not caring about uncanny valley. Their Big Dog has forelegs that pivot like knees, but hind legs that pivot backward. This probably makes it work just as well walking either direction, but it certainly triggers my uncanny valley revulsion.

  3. They need to find a way to allow people to view videos of the event from home, some kind of way to connect computers together with a service to host the videos. Then you don’t have to have EVERYONE holding their phones up to video it.

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