Pentagon’s Humanoid Disaster-Rescue Robot Is Dressed to Impress
Amazing sophisticated robot designed for rescues. It’s practically Data without the skin!
If you saw him approaching in a disaster area, you’d think he was just another fireman. Which is the reaction that the manufacturers of this lifelike humanoid robot are going for.
The PETMAN, created by Boston Dynamics, has gotten dressed. Wearing a flame-retardant camouflage jumpsuit, its metallic face obscured by a gas mask, the PETMAN high-steps, squats and rotates on a platform, all as a human would. This one even has a head.
This model of Boston Dynamics’ humanoid ‘bot was manufactured for the Defense Department’s Chemical and Biological Defense program. Should a chemical or biological attack take place, a robot might be able to perform rescue missions that wouldn’t be safe for a human being. That is, if it can maneuver past rubble, navigate uneven spaces and retain its balance, all of which are difficult propositions for a robot. A cousin of the PETMAN, called Atlas, is competing in Darpa’s newest Grand Challenge, which aims to go beyond the state of the art in robotic maneuverability.
The PETMAN is still suspended from wires in its testbed, indicating that its manufacturers are still sorting out the bugs. But the robot can dip down into a skier’s starting position, and raise its arms triumphantly a la Steve Holt from Arrested Development, presumably in excitement for the show’s return on Netflix.
It feels uncharitable to point out that the PETMAN is still a bit awkward in its movements, given that Virginia Tech roboticist Dennis Hong considers designing graceful, human-like robot motion “beyond Darpa-hard.” Give it credit for its ambition, and most certainly for its fashion sense.