Part 3 BigDog and Cheetah
While technology and computing power began to rise exponentially in the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, researchers pushed for smaller and smaller robotics, developing units that could handle irregular terrain such as rocks or urban debris.
Two legged machines were still much too challenging (expensive) to pursue as production models, but multi-legged were attempted and tested with zeal. Since 1968 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has partnered with dozens of research institutions and quasi-government contracting firms to develop wild ideas “before non-friendly’s beat us to the punch” said a military source.
The past dozen years have brought all sorts of bug-like creatures – three legged striders, four legged hoppers, millipedes, rolli-polli’s, and snake-like eels that propel themselves forward in a most unusual way. The Six-legged spiders seem to be most efficient for the smaller surveillance and communication requirements.
Before designers tackled the whole walking upright thing, mechanical four-legged pack mules were developed. One of the more impressive beasts is been nicknamed “Big Dog” by its handlers at Boston Research. Another DARPA backed project, Big Dog recently went through on a significant hike through rough terrain with military personnel issuing radio commands.
See the video … Watch Big Dog’s first weaponized test!
A cousin of Big Dogs, also a DARPA project is a smaller quadraped that will not carry as large a payload, buck can run at amazing speed. Aptly named “Cheetah” for it’s speed, these cat-bots have been run on the tread mill reaching speeds in excess of 28 mph, faster than Usain Bolt in a 20 meter stretch.
( “Jane! Stop this crazy thing!” ) George Jetson
Again, researchers, scientists, and engineers have built upon these challenges and successes to move up to the most complicated robotics – replicating human form and function (with improvements).
Many teams around the world are working on combining all of the technological advancements to date with the goal of a self directed, intelligent and utilitarian android. Much like the Lost in Space Robot seemed pure unattainable SciFi to me, a human-like Android similar to Data from StarTrek TNG is a distant goal today. Individual teams are working on hands, arms, exoskeletons as walking assistants, and even industrial exoskeletons for superhuman strength. Think Ripley in the Aliens franchise, fighting off the creatures from inside a big orange transformer-like exoskeleton.
Several different projects under the DARPA umbrella are underway including SARCOS Research Corporation’s Wearable Energetically Autonomous Robots (WEAR). Designed for on-foot combat, WEAR will include a base unit configured like legs, torso and arms that mimic human movement using complex kinematic systems and contain energy storage, power systems, actuators and everything needed for an autonomous wearable system.
Some developers are working with the medical community to improve prosthetics for amputees. Perhaps not to the point of Darth Vader’s arm yet, but looking and working much better than the devices of the 20th century.
According to Gizmag, earlier this year, a 58 year-old woman who had lost the use of her limbs was successfully able to drink a cup of coffee by herself using a robotic arm controlled by her thoughts via a brain computer interface (BCI). Now, in a separate study, another woman with longstanding quadriplegia has been able to feed herself a chocolate bar using a mind-controlled, human-like robot arm offering what researchers claim is a level of agility and control approaching that of a human limb. .
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) developed the system that was tested by Jan Scheuermann, 52, from Pittsburgh. A mother of two, she was diagnosed 14 years ago with spinocerebellar degeneration, a degenerative brain disorder that left her paralyzed from the neck down.
UPMC neurosurgeon Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, who is also an assistant professor at the Department of Neurological Surgery, Pitt School of Medicine, placed two electrode grids with 96 tiny contact points into regions of Schneuermann’s motor cortex that controlled right arm and hand movements.
According to lead investigator Assistant Professor Jennifer Collinger, anything is possible.
About Douglas Black
Douglas Black is a photographer, fast car geek, and futurist. Author of several books including i.STRUCTURE; A Trilogy of Vision and View available at http://blur.by/1eRu74n
Earlier Douglas promoted greentech in Detroit as
Senior Marketing Strategist and Architect.
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