Petman and lifelike movement

Thanks to the Nov. 7, 2011 posting on the Foresight Institute blog, I’ve found Petman,

Last month we noted the impressive progress achieved by Boston Dynamics’ AlphaDog project to develop a robot “pack animal” for the US military. Apparently there has been equally impressive progress in developing a humanoid robot capable of faithfully mimicking human movements to test protective suits for use by the military, and ultimately, to replace humans in a variety of arduous and dangerous tasks. This month IEEE Spectrum gave us this update: “Stunning Video of PETMAN Humanoid Robot From Boston Dynamics”, by Erico Guizzo.

I have written about Boston Dynamics and its military robots before, most recently about Big Dog in my Feb. 2, 2010 posting [scroll down a paragraph or two]. It’s amazing to see how much smoother the movement has become although I notice that the robot is tethered. From the Oct. 31, 2011 IEEE Spectrum article by Erico Guizzo,

It can walk, squat, kneel, and even do push-ups.

PETMAN is an adult-sized humanoid robot developed by Boston Dynamics, the robotics firm best known for the BigDog quadruped.

Today, the company is unveiling footage of the robot’s latest capabilities. It’s stunning.

The humanoid, which will certainly be compared to the Terminator Series 800 model, can perform various movements and maintain its balance much like a real person.

Boston Dynamics is building PETMAN, short for Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin, for the U.S. Army, which plans to use the robot to test chemical suits and other protective gear used by troops. It has to be capable of moving just like a soldier — walking, running, bending, reaching, army crawling — to test the suit’s durability in a full range of motion.

Marc Raibert, the founder and president of Boston Dynamics, tells me that the biggest challenge was to engineer the robot, which uses a hydraulic actuation system, to have the approximate size of a person. “There was a great deal of mechanical design we had to do to get everything to fit,” he says.

The Guizzo article features a number of images and a video demonstrating Petman’s abilities along with more details about the robot’s full capabilities. I went on YouTube to find this Petman mashup,

The Japanese have featured some robots that look like and dance like people as I noted in my Oct. 18, 2010 posting where I also discussed the ‘uncanny valley’ in relationship to those robots. Keeping on the ‘humanoid’ robot theme, I also posted about Geminoid robots in the context of a Danish philosopher who commissioned, for a philosophy project, a Geminoid that looked like himself and whose facial features are expressive. In that same posting, March 10, 2011, I wrote about some work at the Georgia Institute of Technology (US) where they too are developing robots that move like humans. The March 2011 posting features more information about the ‘uncanny valley’, including a diagram.

I wonder what it will be like to encounter one of these humanoid robots in the flesh as it were.

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