The Week's Best Robot Videos: AlphaDog, Avatars, and a Death Star

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 10 2012 5:45 PM

 The Week's Best Robot Videos: AlphaDog, Avatars, and a Death Star

Every Friday, Future Tense rounds up the best robot videos of the week. Seen a great robot video? Tweet it to @FutureTenseNow, or email us.

This week, DARPA shows updates of ongoing projects, and for one robot, the pen is clumsier.

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DARPA’s Dog Bot

When soldiers travel on foot, they often have to carry a lot of gear—sometimes more than 100 pounds. For long treks, bearing this heavy load can leave soldiers tired, leading to poorer performance when it counts most. So DARPA is creating man’s best robo-friend. The Legged Squad Support System, also known as LS3 or Boston Dynamics’ AlphaDog, can navigate different types of terrain while carrying up to 400 pounds. The bot can distinguish between trees, rocks, and other obstacles, and its fancy footwork allows it to stay upright the whole time. It can even see people and follow them, meaning transportation of supplies could be almost entirely automated. Looking forward, researchers aim to give LS3 the ability to carry the 400-pound payload on a 20-mile trek in 24 hours without being refueled, according to DARPA. It will also be able to learn some of the essential dog commands, including “stop,” “sit,” and “come here.” (On a sadder note, Laney, the real-life dog who inspired the military’s robotic dogs, recently passed away. Danger Room’s Noah Shachtman has the story of how this dog led to LS3.)

Via Mashable.

The Clumsy Artist Bot

It might not be the most functional robot, but this machine is doing something really incredible. Designed by French artist Patrick Tresset, the bot searches for a face, and then draws that mug (or something like it) on paper.  I initially thought the end result would either be exact and uninteresting, or completely indiscernible. Well, it’s certainly not exact, and that’s sort of the point. Tresset calls his process “clumsy robotics,” which uses autonomous bots as “playful projections of the artist.” Don’t think of it as imperfect. Think of it as a style.

The Death Star Bot

While this is a cool project, a Death Star lookalike is probably not the best way to get people to warm up to military drones. This bot, called GremLion, is currently leading the vote in UAVForge, DARPA’s crowdsourcing competition for unmanned aerial vehicle design. The GremLion concept video debuted in October, and this update is to show that the design is capable of flight. Using a transmitter and an on-board camera, the team from the National University of Singapore has operated the drone from up to two miles away, and the camera can help prevent collisions by spotting obstacles like tree trunks. A proposed target-tracking system will also allow the bot to keep an eye on a selected object moving around on the ground. There’s still some work to be done before this drone is fully operational, but with the support of the UAVForge crowd, this could be Big Brother’s most original unblinking eye yet.

The Avatar Bot 

Forget about 3D movies (please!). The coolest concept used in Avatar is the idea of the avatar itself (though it’s by no means original to the film; see also the 2009 Bruce Willis flick Surrogates, for instance). In the movie, lab-created avatars allow people to exist in an environment too dangerous for human bodies. A group of Japanese researchers applied that same idea to Telesar V, a robot that relays everything it sees, hears, and feels to its human controller “It’s a strange experience that makes you wonder if you’ve really become a robot,” says Sho Kamuro, a researcher on the project at Keio University. The team is working to make the bot functional in dangerous situations, like in the high radiation environment at the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

Via Time.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Adam Sneed is a researcher for Future Tense at the New America Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @atsneed.

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