AlphaDog can carry 400 pounds across rough terrain for 20 miles, and looks absolutely terrifying.
If you’ve been following military-funded research and development over the last decade, you’ve likely heard of BigDog, the robot designed by researchers at Boston Dynamics to serve as a mobile packmule for soldiers in the field. Ideally, the robot would be able to walk alongside troops, carrying heavy loads, and traversing terrain too difficult for wheel- or tread-based vehicles. BigDog worked, and was a reasonable proof of concept, but Boston Dynamics was not satisfied. Its researchers went back to the drawing board, and four years later, we have AlphaDog.
Like its predecessor, AlphaDog “walks” much like a mechanized donkey. Unlike BigDog however, AlphaDog can tote up to 400lbs on its back and continue walking for up to 20 miles across terrain that would give most humans trouble.
Admittedly, AlphaDog won’t be breaking any speed records. It takes a full 24 hours to cover those 20 miles, but as it’s designed to walk alongside troops in potentially hostile territory, it has no need to sprint like a cheetah.
The really impressive bit is that AlphaDog doesn’t need any kind of guidance when strolling alongside a group of soldiers. Instead its onboard sensors allow it to follow a designated “leader,” both matching his/her pace and overcoming any obstacles that may present themselves.
AlphaDog is an undeniably cool advancement in the field of utilitarian robotics, but it does leave a bit to be desired in the aesthetics department. There is just something incredibly unnatural about the machine’s gait. It’s like watching an industrial leather cutter finally break free from its subservient role, only to pick up a job carrying weights across a gravel pit because it doesn’t know what else to do. Every step is furious, yet AlphaDog has no idea why.
Honestly, it’s a bit depressing, at least until you see how the machine rights itself after being knocked on its side. There is no reason why anything with only four legs should ever move like that outside of an Aphex Twin music video.
Hopefully Boston Dynamics can iron out the residual horror by the time AlphaDog begins field testing in 2012.