DARPA funded Robot Ninja Warrior?

Fans of the game show Ninja Warrior will immediately recognize the similarity of this test apparatus as the Spider Climb. Of course that’s not a human contestant, but a humanoid robot developed by Boston Dynamics. And it’s not actually clinging to the vertical walls as its only support. There are two narrow ledges to either side on which its feet gain purchase. Nonetheless this is some impressive work to keep itself upright and avoid slipping. Check out the video after the break to see how it does.

The sheer volume of amazing robot tech that this company spits out is remarkable. Just last month we saw the robotic cheetah which can run at almost 30 mph. We don’t expect to see either in the wild anytime soon, but especially this humanoid. you’ll notice the red rings positioned around the apparatus. We believe these are high-speed cameras set up to give the robot positional feedback and we’d wager it can’t perform without them. But that’s merely conjecture so judge for yourself.

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Cheetah robot can run down even the fastest of us

It’s a blur, but you really don’t want to seen this thing coming for you anyway. It’s the latest look at what the folks at Boston Dynamics have been working on under a DARPA contract. They call it the Cheetah robot as it’s the fastest four-legged bot ever developed. The clip after the break shows it breaking the world record over 100 meters… for a human. This isn’t really legitimate since the run is done on a treadmill and the robot is tethered. But it’s still impressive scary.

The Cheetah is a relative of BigDog, another Boston Dynamics robot which we’ve seen several times in the past. BigDog specializes in lifting heavy loads and traversing rough terrain. We don’t think it will be too long before both traits can be “bred” into one device. A lot of times when we feature these robots there are comments about how they invoke images from The Terminator movies. For us this is more along [Michael Bay's] vision of robots from the Transformers series. It certainly not small enough or fast enough to be seen as an early version of the Rat Thing.

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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.

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Sandia Labs “Hopper” Robot

Made by Boston Dynamics under contract from Sandia Labs, this “hopper” is quite incredible as you can see in the video after the break. Boston Dynamics is no stranger to great robotics designs, including the well known “Big Dog” four-legged robot. This robot, although possibly less advanced, has a very unique trick up it’s sleve.

This robot’s distinguishing feature is that it can navigate autonomously not only with wheels, but also with a powerful single leg that allows it to jump over obstacles of up to 25 feet. Although envisioned to “deliver a payload” in an urban environment, one could imagine a terrifying  horde of these ‘bots jumping into action armed with bombs or other weapons.

According to Sandia’s website is that this form of locomotion has been “shown to be five times more efficient than hovering” when trying to get around obstacles under 10 meters. Technical challenges that have been overcome include managing the shock of landing and producing a leg powerful enough to jump to this height. [Read more...]

DARPA Needs Your Help! Design A Ground Combat Vehicle.

[Joe Schlesinger] of MakeIt Labs wrote in to let us know about an upcoming live chat session march 28th on IRC to discuss DARPA’s latest project, the Adaptive Vehicle Make.

DARPA, in the pursuit of innovative high-risk high-payoff tactical technology is looking to crowd-source the design and construction of the 3000-5000 parts that make up your run of the mill super advanced next generation military hardware. They are even going to distribute about a thousand 3D printers to schools, where students will compete to design some of the complex systems.  The project emphasizes “not traditional” vendors (IE: Hackerspaces) and monetary compensation will be involved in the parts production process.

If you like acronyms (and who doesn’t), or feel like wading through jargon, check out their site. We also found the Wikipedia entry to be helpful in understanding what they are carrying on about.  A briefing PDF (6mb) also contains a lot of information on DARPA’s plans, and pretty pictures.

As per usual DARPA plans on issuing several challenges to make up the entire project, all with huge cash prizes. The first two challenges last 9 months, starting with the Mobility/Drivetrain Challenge in the middle of 2012.   The Chassis/Integrated Survivability Challenge starts in 2013.  These first two also include a cash prize of  500 thousand to one million dollars. The third challenge, the Total Platform Challenge lasts 15 months and begins in late 2013 this carries a prize of one to two million.

[Joe]‘s Hackerspace will be there, any chance we could help out?

DARPA’s hummingbird spybot

Nope, this isn’t some extravagant fishing lure, it’s the US Government’s newest way to spy on its people enemies. The hummingbird bot has no problems flying like an actual hummingbird while recording video. It was developed by a company called Aerovironment as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract. Of course details are scarce, but you can see the device flying around while broadcasting its video feed after the break. Sure, it’s making much more noise than you would expect from an actual hummingbird, but this is just the version that they’re shown off publicly, right?

It has certainly come a long way since the company was awarded the contract few years back. We assume that the hummingbird is the realization of research efforts pumped into their ornithopter project. Those proofs of concept from 2009 on what was called Project Mercury showed off a winged flyer in a controlled environment. To see this year’s model flying out in the open is pretty neat.

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Single-wing flight based on maple seed aerodynamics


The Samara Micro-Air-Vehicle is a product of over three years of work at the University of Maryland’s Aerospace Engineering Autonomous Vehicle Laboratory. The Samara is an applicant in the DARPA nano air vehicle program. Unlike the ornithopter we saw in July, this vehicle uses only one wing for flight. A small propeller on a rod mounted perpendicular to the wing provides rotation. The pitch of the wing is changed to climb, descend, or hover.

You can see a video of the flight tests after the break. The sound the Samara makes reminds us of classic alien invasion movies and the use of Verdi’s Requiem for the background music during flight tests (2:43) seems quite fitting. At about 5:45 there is some on board video footage that is just a blur of the room spinning by. This would be much more useful if a few frames per second were snapped at exactly the same point in the vehicles rotation.

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