BigDog

by Kieran Healy on March 18, 2008

I’m pretty sure I last saw one of these while playing Half-Life 2, but now it appears to be walking around New England somewhere. Just look at how it reacts about 40” in when the guy gives it a kick.

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Crooked Timber » » The Brick Moon
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An amazing robot « ::: Think Macro :::
03.24.08 at 5:43 pm

{ 59 comments }

1

sidereal 03.18.08 at 5:20 am

I assume PETR will be all over his case and he’ll be cited for cruelty to robots.

2

RoboCop 03.18.08 at 5:22 am

This is such an incredibly bad idea. Stairs used to be a key part in our defense strategy against the robots. Invest now in rope ladders, people.

3

Kieran Healy 03.18.08 at 5:29 am

I was thinking more that the next iteration of this thing will have grown an autogun and would just be able to shoot the next person who tried to kick it over.

4

Hattie 03.18.08 at 5:30 am

This thing is amazing! I should have such a good sense of balance

5

SG 03.18.08 at 5:45 am

It crosses both sets of legs on the kick, so you can take it out with a good second kick after the first one.

I like the horde-of-locusts sound as it walks though – the Daleks would be proud.

6

yoyo 03.18.08 at 6:48 am

Isn’t anyone else really creeped out by giant spiders?

7

Andrew 03.18.08 at 8:18 am

I dare anyone to not anthropomorphise that.

(Well I felt sorry for it went it stumbled on the ice, even if no-one else did.)

8

Nick 03.18.08 at 9:25 am

Look at the end-credits . . . Big Dog will be coming to downtown Fallujah any time now . . .

9

aaron_m 03.18.08 at 10:55 am

Can’t they paint these things with some happy colours so that I can avoid getting the Blade Runner feeling.

At least slap a smiley face sticker on it!

10

Ginger Yellow 03.18.08 at 12:10 pm

That’s so far beyond anything I’ve seen before in quadruped stability. I wonder if it’s all onboard, or if the processing is done offsite and radioed in. The indoors bits have it rigged up to some frame.

11

Ginger Yellow 03.18.08 at 12:17 pm

To answer my own question, Boston Dynamics seem to be claiming it’s all onboard:

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.

12

SG 03.18.08 at 12:52 pm

there is a bright side to this doggy dalek – it means AT-AT walkers are a mere couple of years away. Which is fine if you’re not with the rebellion…

13

Matt 03.18.08 at 1:16 pm

What year is it that Skynet becomes self-aware?

14

chris y 03.18.08 at 1:19 pm

What year is it that SkyInternet becomes self-aware?

15

HH 03.18.08 at 1:21 pm

It is a foregone conclusion that such robots will be armed and sent into combat as merciless killing machines. What kind of people would do such a thing? Oil-thirsty Americans.

16

Cryptic Ned 03.18.08 at 1:37 pm

No, any people who had the ability to would do such a thing. It’s in our nature.

Hopefully it will be unfeasibly expensive to employ them for any such use.

17

Rich B. 03.18.08 at 1:52 pm

While certainly impressive, I think it’s realistic to assume that the “kick” and “ice” scenes were all “Take 43″s.

18

Scott Hughes 03.18.08 at 2:05 pm

It’s cool and amazing but in a scary sort of way.

19

HH 03.18.08 at 2:27 pm

There is no doubt whatsoever that semi-autonomous killing machines will be used by the US armed forces. Extrapolation of progress in relevant hardware and software technologies suggests that such perfect killers will be in service within a decade.

An interesting consequence of this emerging class of weaponry is the added urgency for less-developed countries to acquire nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons can still equalize great disparities in military capabilities, neatly neutralizing hordes of shiny new American killbots.

20

Tom T. 03.18.08 at 2:28 pm

In a couple of years, tiny pink-and-blue fluffy versions of this thing will be on sale at Hallmark. A built-in MP3 chip will play “Dance to the Music,” “These Boots Were Made For Walkin'” (Jessica Simpson version), and “the Hokey-Pokey.”

21

se 03.18.08 at 2:59 pm

21 and 22 are both true.

“What year is it that Skynet/Internet becomes self-aware?”

Not too long after someone programs in algorithms for conditioned response and the requirement for survival/continuity.

22

Nick 03.18.08 at 3:09 pm

In a couple of years, tiny pink-and-blue fluffy versions of this thing will be on sale at Hallmark. A built-in MP3 chip will play “Dance to the Music,” “These Boots Were Made For Walkin’” (Jessica Simpson version), and “the Hokey-Pokey.”

You’re forgetting the popular Rolf Harris classic “I’m Jake The Peg”

23

Matthew Kuzma 03.18.08 at 3:31 pm

I take some comfort from it’s poor ice performance, living as I do in the fridgid North. With this and killer bees, I now have a genuine list of ways I won’t die specifically because I bother to endure this crappy climate.

This robot is not so scary because it could be mounted with an auto-aiming minigun turret and set loose, along with hundreds more, in a city, though that would be pretty scary to be anywhere near. But what makes this thing really frightening is that we’re only a few years away from it being mounted with a camera and an arm or two and being able to do all the manual labor on, say, an aircraft carrier. Writing software that replaces pilots is going to be comparitively trivial and once these guys can prep a dozen stealth bombers for launch we have a world-mobile, nuclear-fueled killing force that could be completely under the contol of a singe person, or yes, a hostile machine intelligence.

More than the potential for AI to decide to wipe out humanity, which I think does deserve serious thought, I’m concerned about the potential robotics has to concentrate power even more completely to an arbitrarily small group of people. The President may command the military but if he ordered a carrier group or a Trident submarine to lay waste to Iran, or Switzerland, or the blue states, he would meet increasing levels of insubbordination throughout the chain of command. In some of those cases the first person the order went to would object and that would be enough. But with a fully automated military, anyone with the power to issue commands to it is, like the invisible man, free to do whatever he pleases with it without having to look anyone in the eye. And I think that is the single greatest and most fundamental check against indecency we have.

Of course, I could be wrong. At least the robot army won’t force you to watch it rape your wife or daughter before blowing your brains out.

24

Joshua W. Burton 03.18.08 at 3:40 pm

At least the robot army won’t force you to watch it rape your wife or daughter before blowing your brains out.

Why not? That seems like a very minor technical challenge.

25

Ginger Yellow 03.18.08 at 4:20 pm

Sorry to go Godwin on you, but Hitler didn’t exactly need robots in WWII, and there has been no shortage of atrocities and illegal wars in our primitive human powered military history.

26

James Melzer 03.18.08 at 4:48 pm

It’s an early Tachikoma! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tachikoma

27

ajay 03.18.08 at 5:33 pm

25 is I think a little OTT. It’s all very well building a robot which can walk (and it’s marvellously impressive and will have all sorts of civilian applications) but building a robot that can autonomously maintain a stealth bomber is a monumental software task. It’s not the mobility, it’s vision and problem-solving intelligence – which are both huge unsolved puzzles.

Also, to be honest, this doesn’t really open the way for killer robots. It just opens the way for killer robots with legs. If mobility were the key technology for killer robots, we would already have killer robots with wheels – which are established technology.

28

Great Zamfir 03.18.08 at 7:46 pm

For does who fear military robots, this is a nice video. Watch how Samsung proudly puts its logo on its killer robot. In South Korea, producing automated killing machines is clearly a marketing plus.

29

HH 03.18.08 at 9:43 pm

Of course, I could be wrong. At least the robot army won’t force you to watch it rape your wife or daughter before blowing your brains out.

The ethical dimension of deployment of robot soldiers is a fascinating domain. Since terror is an instrument of warfare, robots could be programmed to do arbitrarily terrifying things. On the other hand, deviation from decision rules, such as whom to kill, capture, or release, would not occur, so there would be less terrifying randomness in the madness of warfare.

Like most technologies, I believe that the robotic soldiers would simply amplify the good and bad characteristics of human personality. Nuclear weapons will remain the best insurance against ingenious neighbors and their killing machines.

30

magistra 03.18.08 at 9:52 pm

But the real question is: what about when it meets a deer fence?

Our relatives in the Highlands have a Leonberger, which is a genuine big dog. And the big problem they have on walks is what you do when you come to a deer fence? There are stiles for humans, but the real big dog is a) unable to climb a steep incline like that and b) too heavy to be pushed/lifted over a stile. Stick something similar in the Big Dog’s path and I reckon it’s still stimied.

31

Righteous Bubba 03.18.08 at 10:08 pm

It just opens the way for killer robots with legs.

Right. The robots when they show up are likely to be cheap and tiny airborne guns. There are already predator drones, why not a swarm of small motion-detecting one-shot helicopters that don’t stray outside a particular area?

32

yoyo 03.18.08 at 10:13 pm

I look foward to semiautonomous killing machines acting as police, because they won’t be so racist, and won’t provoke so much sympathy thus supporting ‘assulting a police officer’ bs.

33

Righteous Bubba 03.18.08 at 10:37 pm

Let bots sort ’em out.

34

HH 03.19.08 at 12:23 am

I look foward to semiautonomous killing machines acting as police, because they won’t be so racist

They can be as racist as their programmers wish them to be.

35

SG 03.19.08 at 1:50 am

they’d make for excellent wheelchairs!

(see, I’m the smiley-faced liberal fascist at its very best)

36

Juicy 03.19.08 at 2:03 am

I’m surprised no one has brought up the simple question of cost. How much has research into this little toy donkey cost the tax payer? If this is really to aid soldiers carry heavy loads in rough terrain wouldn’t an actual donkey suffice?

37

Tom T. 03.19.08 at 4:03 am

why not a swarm of small motion-detecting one-shot helicopters

As we saw on the Simpsons, those could be outwitted by luring them into a closet full of dynamite.

38

Righteous Bubba 03.19.08 at 4:21 am

Curse the right to bear dynamite! I WILL have my helikiller force conquer the world!

39

lemuel pitkin 03.19.08 at 5:03 am

Fascinating. I wonder why they settled on the trot as its standard gait. Is there some basic commonality with a horse, or is it just coincidence?

40

ajay 03.19.08 at 11:11 am

37: also mountain rescue vehicles, highway construction equipment, autonomous urban search/rescue, recreational use, low-impact transport (they won’t tear up the ground as much as a tracked vehicle would)…

38: donkeys and mules have certain drawbacks. 1) they need food and water, all the time, not just when they’re moving around 2) you can’t pack them into a shipping container and leave them there for two months while you move them across the ocean 3) they need veterinary support, and are slow to repair if damaged 4) they get sick 5) they suffer in extreme cold 6) they need to rest regularly for long periods 7) they can’t be airdropped or moved by air very easily 8) potentially, a BigDog could carry more payload than a mule 9) BigDog, unlike a mule, could also serve as a platform for sensors or weapons 10) if you think a mule would be quieter than a robot, you need to spend more time around mules – they are LOUD when unhappy, and unhappy is the natural state of a mule.

41: I suppose there’s only a limited number of ways that something with four legs can move, after all.

41

Ben 03.19.08 at 1:51 pm

But the real question is: what about when it meets a deer fence?

Reminds me of an old cartoon with a few daleks at the foot of some stairs and one says, “that buggers our quest for world domination”.

While we are on the subject on advanced robots I was never wholly clear why The Terminator was programmed to speak with an Austrian accent. You see, even cyborg software engineers can miss the big picture sometimes, too.

42

roac 03.19.08 at 4:23 pm

What Ajay said. I concluded five seconds into the video, knowing no more about it, that this was (1) done by people connected with MIT (2) funded by the Defense Department (3) intended, at least in the short term, to address the problem of getting supplies to the front line under combat conditions.

The Allies actually had to fall back on mules for this purpose in the Italian theater in WWII.

43

r@d@r 03.19.08 at 4:27 pm

i’m with the people above who felt a little creeped out by how lifelike the motion of this machine seems…but beyond that, i actually found myself thinking about how this advances the science of prosthetics before i thought about how it advances the science of warfare. and then i started thinking about transhumanism, and i got creeped out again.

44

lemuel pitkin 03.19.08 at 7:11 pm

how lifelike the motion of this machine seems

Right. But the interesting question is, why? Is it because they deliberately copied the movement of animals? Or does it turn out that there are just certain solutions to the problem of getting around on legs?

A side benefit of this kind of research may be new insight into the evolution of locomotion in animals.

45

lemuel pitkin 03.19.08 at 7:36 pm

, at least in the short term, to address the problem of getting supplies to the front line under combat conditions.

This is almost certainly wrong. The whole point of this thing is that it doesn’t require a human operator — that’s why it’s autonomous reactions to verious hazards are such a big deal. (That’s also what it’s got going for it over Jeff Davis’s mules.)

People will be following the same path as supplies to the front. Where you want this robot is in places people can’t or would prefer not to go — a possibly booby-trapped building, say.

46

Righteous Bubba 03.19.08 at 8:15 pm

Or does it turn out that there are just certain solutions to the problem of getting around on legs?

You may be interested in breve which is an environment that has a somewhat ugly screensaver in which – through trial and error – various monstrosities learn to move themselves.

47

roac 03.19.08 at 8:20 pm

Well, maybe. The thing about paths in areas immediately behind a static front is that the other side is going to know where they are and register mortars and artillery on them. If these thingies could make their own routes for each trip, their survival rate would go up.

A question that hadn’t occurred to me is whether any of the sensors that are enabling this to avoid obstacles will work in the dark.

48

lemuel pitkin 03.19.08 at 8:22 pm

Cool — thanks, RB!

49

Juicy 03.20.08 at 1:08 am

42: All very good points Ajay. Thanks. Of course, I still think it’s a little more than obscene that you now have a robot that is 1000 times the cost of the living-breathing equivalent but I dare you to say that it is 1000 times as good. Enjoy your recession.

50

Righteous Bubba 03.20.08 at 1:22 am

Of course, I still think it’s a little more than obscene that you now have a robot that is 1000 times the cost of the living-breathing equivalent but I dare you to say that it is 1000 times as good. Enjoy your recession.

MIT is automating non sequiturs as we speak.

51

Juicy 03.20.08 at 6:00 am

52: Really? How exciting. Too bad they’re not working on a cure for the millions of people, governments and investment banks who buy overpriced stuff they don’t need.

52

ajay 03.20.08 at 9:27 am

Thanks. Of course, I still think it’s a little more than obscene that you now have a robot that is 1000 times the cost of the living-breathing equivalent but I dare you to say that it is 1000 times as good.

In other news, juicy is disgusted by the existence of automobiles. “What’s wrong with horse-drawn wagons?”

53

Roy Belmont 03.20.08 at 6:55 pm

One of the more insidious ways the automobile was grafted onto human physiology was with that bullshit “Well, if you don’t like this, then go back to that.” “That” being the cliched stereotype awful, brutal, primitive, ugly, dangerous past, and don’t forget those way-too-short lifespans! And, and, no medicine! And dirt! And worms and fleas! Might get eaten by a bear! Or a lion!
Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in the US for people under 30. That means children. CDC.
The choice is not between cars and one-horse shays, pick one. The choice is first between this way and any other way.
Once you decide to go a different direction you have a near-infinite number of possible paths to choose from.
The self-interest and sniveling greed that saturates that b.s. binary is fully exposed and no longer viable.

54

Roy Belmont 03.20.08 at 6:55 pm

55

ajay 03.20.08 at 11:44 pm

Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in the US for people under 30. That means children

Well, something has to be the leading cause of death for children under 30. That it is traffic accidents is really a consequence of the fact that relatively speaking almost no one under 30 in the US dies of diphtheria, typhus, typhoid, rubella, measles, cholera, pertussis, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, tetanus, malaria, infantile diarrhoea, gas gangrene, industrial accidents, black lung, botulism, heavy metal poisoning, hypothermia, kwashiorkor, pellagra, scurvy, syphilis, beri-beri, house fires, murder or malnutrition any more. It’s not that traffic accidents are solely the result of the internal combustion engine; they were common in the horse-drawn age too. It’s just that all the previously more-common causes of death are now no longer nearly as common.

Fortunately for roy belmont, intemperate language and an inability to think clearly are also much declined as causes of death from the days when
they could lead, respectively, to death in a duel or death at (say) the Little Big Horn.

56

Roy Belmont 03.21.08 at 5:19 am

They could lead to a career in politics as easily, or mainstream journalism.
Something does have to be the leading cause of death for children, and it happens to be traffic accidents. If it was gunshot wounds, as it is for a disgustingly high percentage of young black males, that were killing white children at the same consistent rate as car wrecks, every mother and father in the US would be screaming for immediate action. Deny that.
And thanks to some odd but happy coincidences virtually all children don’t know that car wrecks are killing them, and neither do most of their parents.
Though they do know, because they’ve been taught forcefully and vividly how bad illegal drugs are, and Muslim terrorists, and how much more wonderful life is today than it ever ever was ever before.
It could well be ajay’s right about this, they don’t have to know that cars are killing more children than anything else because it’s such a trivial thing, and such a natural thing now that all those diseases have been routed. So that instead of carrying on an immune system honed from generation to generation, they’re Darwined out randomly, the selection process being plain old bad luck, or an inability to read the future.
Like ajay, I’m a big fan of clear thought, but I’m likely a lot more tolerant of unclear thought than he is, since I’ve seen firsthand how easily minds can be damaged at the lower ends of this upside-down world. The idea that what you bring to the race is all that matters is insane, and profoundly inhuman. And very common in Wall Street and Washington.
Considering where we are now, dead oceans, dying glaciers, bizarre shifts in an increasingly unstable climate, arrogant crowing about the triumphs of modernity is past offensive, it’s bloody, and sociopathic.

57

taj 03.21.08 at 9:15 pm

Roy, are you really this upset about a robot with legs?

58

taj 03.21.08 at 9:23 pm

As has been mentioned earlier in this thread, what is amazing about this is not necessarily that future wars will be fought with fewer donkeys.

The level of physical and environmental awareness that these folks have been able to pack into an autonomous unit can very well lead to safer vehicles and better traffic flow.

59

Roy Belmont 03.22.08 at 4:21 am

No, taj, I love the machine. It’s the techno-chauvinism in some sections of the audience, that makes me puke. I love the 1989 Lotus Elan. I love my Asus dual-core that I built my ownself. My Geo Metro. My electric guitar. My Canon Rebel…
It’s the chauvinist cliches I’m speaking to.
Primary being ajay’s trope of “If you don’t like the automobile and its triumphant dominating presence you have to go directly back to the horse-drawn wagon, and contract polio.” As though progress is inevitably linear.
Alternate futures that incorporate robot donkeys that act like giant flies are fine with me, it’s this one I’m having trouble with.

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