Wow – this is quite amazing. About mid-way through Big Dog (a defense project from Boston Dynamics) slips on some glaze ice and recovers without actually falling down, which involves some super cool real-time responses. The video is long-ish, but definitely worth the investment.
I’d love to know what the burn out rate for the joints and motors are. One of the amazing things about biological organisms is that we can balance muscles against each other to hold a position without wearing ourselves out. Many walking robots, on the other hand, end up exerting so much force in simply maintaining their position that they tend to burn out key components really quickly. Given the responses and forces involved in Big Dog’s movement and balance, you’d think they’d have this problem in spades. If these trials go on for any length of time, however, they presumably managed to handle this to some degree. Their web site says “BigDog’s legs are articulated like an animal’s, and have compliant elements that absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next.”; the idea of recycling energy back into the motion (use it instead of fight it) certainly looks promising.
The research is being funded by DoD money, with the hope that robots like this could help carry material in the field. I could imagine nice civilian applications, however. An infirm person in Morris, for example, might be capable of walking to the grocery store, but not capable of carrying a shopping load home. A smaller, electric version of this could be a nice alternative to cars in that situation.
Thanks to Sub-Evil for the pointer!