Boston Dynamics has unveiled the latest in combat escorts: the AlphaDog.
AlphaDog is a robot that unlike most can walk and keep its balance. While walking robots have made the rounds for some time - Honda's ASIMO is one example - the big challenge has been getting them to keep their balance and move at a reasonable speed.
Most military escorts are vehicles. But vehicles don't work without roads, and in many parts of the world there aren't any. In a country such as Afghanistan, the pack mule is still a common method of carrying things - the U.S. military even trains soldiers in how to handle them. But mules need food and can be difficult to handle for people who don't have experience with animals. They also might run away when they hear gunfire.
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So the Department of Defense, through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, sought alternatives. Waltham, Mass.-based Boston Dynamics, started by a group of MIT grads that were interested in robotics, used DARPA funding to experiment. The group came up with a method of using an array of gyroscopes, range finders and shock absorbers designed to help the robot "see" its environment and mimic the way an actual four-legged animal walks.