– Google Adds to Its Menagerie of Robots (The New York Times, Dec 14, 2013):
SAN FRANCISCO — BigDog, Cheetah, WildCat and Atlas have joined Google’s growing robot menagerie.
A robot named BigDog, which can walk over rough terrain, can also stay upright in response to a well-placed human kick.
Google confirmed on Friday that it had completed the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that has designed mobile research robots for the Pentagon. The company, based in Waltham, Mass., has gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance and even — cheetahlike — run faster than the fastest humans.
Boston Dynamics, the military engineering firm best known for its four-legged BigDog robot, has been awarded two contracts by DARPA to develop a pair of new robots: an agile humanoid called ATLAS and a speedy, animal-inspired quadruped called CHEETAH.
ATLAS looks like a headless Terminator, with a torso, two legs and two arms, all controlled by an array of servos, pistons and robotic muscles. His killer feature is lifelike agility, and will be able to tackle difficult terrain by walking upright, sidling through narrow passages and using his hands for balance, support and grip.
“ATLAS will walk like a man, using a heel-to-toe walking motion, long strides and dynamic transfer of weight on each step,” explains Rob Playter, the ATLAS principal investigator and VP of Engineering at Boston Dynamics. Dynamic agility systems will allow the robot to use his own momentum to throw or swing himself across gaps and between handholds. It’s not entirely clear why he lacks a head.
CHEETAH, on the other hand, is about pure velocity. Named after the planet’s fastest land animal, Boston’s big-cat-inspired robot will sprint faster than the quickest human athletes. It doesn’t sacrifice maneuverability though, as the robot is being designed to take tighter turns so it can zigzag to chase and evade. “It will accelerate rapidly, starting and stopping on a dime,” says Boston Dynamics in a statement.