DARPA’s Robot Dog Projects
Small business qualifier Boston Dynamics, Inc. in Waltham, MA has received a $10 million completion-type, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to build a dog-like robot with the capability to run fast, traverse trough terrain, jump over obstacles 1 meter (40″) tall or 2 meters wide, and operate for 2 hours without refueling. The goal of this effort is to create legged robots that mimic animal structure, mechanics and control, in order to achieve animal-like strength, speed and mobility. The priority application is a robot that could eventually accompany Marines and other troops in the field as a load-carrier across nearly any terrain. This 15-month contract also includes 3 one-year options which would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $40 million if exercised.
Sony’s AIBO electro-pet may be in CMU’s Robot Hall of Fame, but it doesn’t perform at this level. So, what is Boston Dynamics’ entry like – and how has it performed to date?
The Big Dog/ LS3
BigDog is the size of a large dog or small mule, measuring 1 meter/40″ long, 0.7 meters/ 28″ tall and 75 kg/ 165 pounds weight. The robot is powered by a gasoline engine driving a hydraulic actuation system; its legs are articulated like an animal’s, and have elements that absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next just as animals and humans do. An on-board computer controls locomotion and handles a wide variety of sensors including joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load, a laser gyroscope, a stereo vision system; as well as monitors for hydraulic pressure, oil temperature, engine temperature, rpm, battery charge, etc.
By 2007, BigDog had trotted at 3.3 mph/ over 5 kph, climbed a 35 degree slope, and carried a 120 lb load. See this YouTube video, and Boston Dynamics’ page for their BigDog robot in order to get a better idea.
The BigDog program is not new, but it appears to be reaching a more advanced stage. BigDog was developed with help from QinetiQ’s Foster Miller, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Harvard University Concord Field Station.
A follow on project, called LS3 (Legged Squad Support System), continues to move forward. Key characteristics of the LS3 program include:
- The same Quadruped deployable walking platform. The goal is sufficient payload capacity, range, endurance, and low noise signature for dismounted squad support, while keeping weight and volume scaled to the squad level. According to DARPA’s plan, LS3 will be capable to carry 400 pounds of payload for 20 miles in 24 hours, while weighing no more than 1,250 pounds fully loaded.
- Walking control techniques that allow walking, trotting, and running/ bounding, with the ability to jump obstacles, cross ditches, recover from disturbances, etc.
- User interface (to include perception technologies): the ability for the robot to perceive and traverse its immediate terrain environment autonomously with simple methods of control.
Maybe they should have called it Legged Autonomous Support and Endurance (LAS-E)…
Contracts & Key Events
Feb /09: DARPA awards Boston Dynamics of Waltham, MA a $32 million, 30-month contract to to develop LS3 prototypes. Other team partners include Bell Helicopter, AAI Corp., Carnegie Mellon University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Woodward HRT.
Following the initial LS3 design and build phase, DARPA and the Marine Corps will review the results and determine future program phases that may lead to full LS3 integration and experimentation with operational platforms. DARPA [PDF]
July 12/07: Small business qualifier Boston Dynamics, Inc. has received a $10 million completion-type, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to build a dog-like robot with the capability to run fast, traverse trough terrain, jump over obstacles 1 meter (40″) tall or 2 meters wide, and operate for 2 hours without refueling.
This 15-month contract also includes 3 one-year options which would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $40 million if exercised. It was awarded under a Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Broad Area Announcement No. 06-19, which solicited proposals for research and development under the provision of FAR 6.102(d)(2) and FAR 35. The BAA was published via the Commerce Business Daily’s Federal Business Opportunities website, on February 8, 2006. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, CA issued this contract (N66001-07-C-2029).