Whether man-made or natural — or like Fukushima, a combination of the two — major catastrophic events, while rare, are becoming increasingly costly as human populations worldwide move to urban areas. This is why, in an effort to spur the development of agile humanoid first-responders, the US Department of Defense’s strategic plan identifies disaster response as a priority area, and why it is funnelling tens of millions of dollars into the DARPA Robotics Challenge.
Boston Dynamics just released a new video of their robot PETMAN. The robot was funded by the Department of Defense to test the performance of protective clothing designed for hazardous environments. Importance is given to mimicking human-like motions and body-like conditions (sweating and temperature) to make sure the clothing is resistant. Sensors on the “skin” of PETMAN, beneath the suit, are able to detect chemical leaks.
In early March, Boston Dynamics posted a video (shown below) showing the Cheetah robot they are developing for DARPA running at 18 miles per hour (a new record for a robot running on legs), without any stabilization straps attached. More recently the MIT Biomimetic Robotics Lab has posted videos of their version of the Cheetah, first walking (no longer public, as of 08Aug2012), then trotting, with some stabilization (shown above). The MIT version appears to be more complex than the Boston Dynamics version, particularly in the way the legs are jointed, but also in the way the rear legs connect to the rest of the body, although it’s impossible to tell whether what appear to be vertebrae, in the MIT version, are actually functional as such, from the video alone.