April 16, 2008

Boston Dynamics: Robotics and American Ingenuity

"The United States was always a product of its citizens own ingenuity, from the time it was founded it has been the world’s most inventive nation, nurturing the right conditions for technological innovation ... Introducing BigDog, the world’s most advanced robot! "


It seems American ingenuity is alive and well. I was recently astounded to note just how far Robotics has come. Boston Dynamics, an offshoot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology started developing Biomorphic (meaning, animal like movements) robotics in the early 90’s and their cutting-edge work inspired their launch in 1992.

It is no ordinary engineering firm, specializing in robotic and human simulation primarily catering to the U.S. defense establishment and even serving the Sony Corporation. You may recall Sony’s humanoid robot QRIO, well it turns out Sony approached Boston Dynamics for its physics based human simulation systems. From the website:

“BigDog is the alpha male of the Boston Dynamics family of robots. It is a quadruped robot that walks, runs, and climbs on rough terrain and carries heavy loads. BigDog is powered by a gasoline engine that drives a hydraulic actuation system. BigDog's legs are articulated like an animal’s, and have compliant elements that absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next. BigDog is the size of a large dog or small mule, measuring 1 meter long, 0.7 meters tall and 75 kg weight.”

“BigDog has an on-board computer that controls locomotion, servos the legs and handles a wide variety of sensors. BigDog’s control system manages the dynamics of its behavior to keep it balanced, steer, navigate, and regulate energetics as conditions vary. Sensors for locomotion include joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load, a laser gyroscope, and a stereo vision system. Other sensors focus on the internal state of BigDog, monitoring the hydraulic pressure, oil temperature, engine temperature, rpm, battery charge and others.”

“In separate trials, BigDog runs at 4 mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rubble, and carries a 340 lb load.”


I read that the Pentagon, but more specifically the Defense Research Project Agency (DRAPA) backs the program. I am drawn to the organizations mission:

"DARPA’s mission is to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security by sponsoring revolutionary, high-payoff research that bridges the gap between fundamental discoveries and their military use."

For those interested in DRAPA’s current strategic plan, click here.

The United States was always a product of its citizens own ingenuity, from the time it was founded it has been the world’s most inventive nation, nurturing the right conditions for technological innovation through an ideal form of Government, one that encourages independence and, the sheer rate of competition.

"The role of government is not to create wealth; the role of our government is to create an environment in which the entrepreneur can flourish, in which minds can expand, in which technologies can reach new frontiers." Said President George W. Bush in 2001. And from the same source:

"By nearly every relevant metric, the U.S. leads the world in science and technology. With only about five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. employs nearly one-third of all scientists and engineers and accounts for approximately one-third of global R&D spending (U.S. R&D spending of over $300 billion is as much as the rest of the G-8 nations combined)."

Boston Dynamics is proof that American ingenuity is alive and well.

Finally, for those who quite naturally experienced an emotional reaction when BigDog was kicked in the side, you will find an explanation for this here.

Oh, and notice it did not defend itself - Asimov would be pleased. “A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.” Click here for the first two laws.

Comments always appreciated

23 comments:

The Liberal Lie The Conservative Truth said...

Great Post Otto. American ingenuity has always been alive and well. It is only those who wish the demise of America that are claiming that our industrial, economic and technological lead and edge is fadinf and/or gone!

It won't be long before R2D2 and CP3O become a reality and not just a fictitious creation of Geroge Lucas!

Karen said...

Yes, American ingenuity is alive and well, thank you very much. It is only the people obsessed with the negative in the world that deny the good things. Robotic innovation is an ever growing phenom. My concern is with the current educational system in this country that is falling down on the importance of science and math studies.

My husband is an engineer in the oil drilling business. He is completing a project now that has built a drill rig that has been moved over to west Texas. The bulk of his career he has been in offshore drilling. Robotics and computer operated controls are expanding in the field with every generation of drill rig.

American Interests.blog said...

Liberal Lie the Conservative Truth:
Thanks Ken, actually the Stars Wars tech timeline is out of whack. By the time we can wiz around the galaxy at light speed robotics tech and robots would surpass humans for ability and imtellect...scary thought...

Karen: Thanks for raising robots and industry. I was about to go down that past in the post but decided to limit its legnth. Modern industrial robots are a marvel of engineering, American company, Adept Technology is one of the largest robot companies in the world and leading producer of industrial robot applications...

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

American Interests,

Well done.

And, nertz: You beat me to this. On the other hand, now I'll be able to use your research for my own dog story. (And, of course, cite my source.)

Yep. Between robot dogs, cyborg bugs, and really big water balloons, I'd say that American ingenuity is alive and well.

I'm inclined to think that it has something to do with our open culture - and America's willingness to take in people from anywhere. (Despite the grumpiness of a few immigrants' descendants, over the latest set of 'them foreigners.')

WomanHonorThyself said...

outstanding Otto!..gosh talk about creativity!

American Interests.blog said...

Brian: I'll look out for your story...Apart form the reasons you state, it also comes down to money as in investment and reward. Part of the culture as well...Hey, thanks for commenting!!!

Angel: Yea, I thought so too

Anonymous said...

"all intensive purposes" ??! Why don't you foreigners try to learn the language when you come over here? It's ...all intents and purposes...no wonder you're a wingo. You're all ignorant as hell.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Re. Anonymous's comment.

I found that "intensive purposes" reference: in "About this blog," in the sidebar.

Although "intents and purposes" may have been intended, "intensive purposes" is grammatically correct: although not the borderline-cliché "intents and purposes."

That aside, I hope that foreigner-bashing, ad hominem, remarks do not become the rule here.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

American Interests,

Good point. I missed that. It must seem terribly Philistine to some, but the prospect of being able to profit from effort and ingenuity is a considerable incentive.

Keep blogging!

MK said...

Wow, that it is really cool. I once read about a type of robot that a man could sit inside, sort of do what a normal human can but more more powerful and faster. Glad to see they aren't that far away from it.

American Interests.blog said...

Anonymous: Lighten up friend, that's getting a little pedantic don't you think...

Brian: Thanks!

mk: Thanks for commenting and keep up the great work at your end...

Debbie said...

It's amazing what we can do when challenged.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

Incognito said...

Looks like anonymous followed you over from Karen's place. someone has way too much time on their hands.

As for the post... interesting... but one does wonder where most of the engineers hail from. :-)

American Interests.blog said...

Right Truth: Thanks Debbie

Incog: Time is a luxury! Thanks for visiting...

David Schantz said...

Recently they found that some teens in Spencer, Iowa were puting small bombs in mail boxes. Law enforcement used robots to find and disarm the bombs so human bomb tech's wern't put in danger. Great post.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

Tapline said...

Otto, You continue to amaze me Otto. We do have our share of R&D. Many engineers come from other parts of the world to American. They work here for a period,,some I'm sure stay....Then they return home. We met an Engineering Couple from Scotland. they lived here for 3 years then returned to Scotland.....Excellent post as usual.....stay well.....

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Robots are cool. Another example of American exceptionalism.

Jeff said...

Good mules for the moutains of Afghanistan.

The Historian said...

Otto-

An impressive post about some impressive technology. Innovation and entrepreneurship are alive and well (hopefully I said that right so I won't upset anonymous).

American Interests.blog said...

David: Robots and Law enforcement? Imagine the partnership in 50 years!

Tapline: Thanks I do my best to amaze! More exactly, to generate decent posts...

American Interests.blog said...

GSGF: Thanks Courtney

Jeff: Give them a few years...Got to beef up those electric motors...

The Historian: Anonymous got us all spooked! Thanks for commenting...

Aurora said...

American ingenuity? Yes, true. Though I truly hope that the terrorists don't get their hands on these bots out on the battle field.

American Interests.blog said...

Aurora: Indeed, maybe some remote access self destruct functions would address that...