This Ghastly Camouflage Robot Will Haunt Your Nightmares

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 5 2013 4:53 PM

This Ghastly Camouflage Robot Will Haunt Your Nightmares

Some robots are silly. A few are useful. Most are disappointing.

This one is downright macabre.

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That's Boston Dynamics' latest version of PETMAN, a name that will ring familiar to readers of our (late, lamented) robot roundup. Over the years, we've seen PETMAN in various guises: doing pushups, climbing stairs, and even negotiating an obstacle course. But we've never seen him quite like this—decked from head to toe in a camouflage suit that could just as easily conceal a human as a soulless humanoid machine. All it takes are some fatigues and a gas mask to cast an ordinary robot into the queasiest depths of the uncanny valley.

They say clothes make the man. Apparently the same goes for machines.

PETMAN is funded by the Department of Defense's Chemical and Biological Defense program, and according to Boston Dynamics, its purpose is simply to test the performance of protective clothing in hazardous environments. If only to preserve my peace of mind, I'm going to choose to believe them.

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

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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