New Boston Dynamics Robots' 'Nightmare-Inducing' Feature: Wheels On Legs

( [email protected] ) Feb 02, 2017 05:27 PM EST
Boston Dynamics have impressed in the past with their robots that are not only built tough, but smart as well. The inclusion of wheels further increase the legend surrounding these robots.
New Boston Dynamics Robots' 'Nightmare-Inducing' Feature: Wheels On Legs - Their fearsome robots are now more mobile than ever, thanks to the introduction of wheels. YouTube screengrab

Boston Dynamics is well known for their collection of robots in the past -- in particular robots that could traverse just about any kind of terrain. These are heavy duty workers which will certainly be a boon on the battlefield, as they can not only follow soldiers wherever they go, our troops would have a lighter load to tote around. Well, Alphabet subsidiary Boston Dynamics has just upped the ante this time around by integrating an idea that will see one of the very first tools man made into their robots -- wheels.

Some of us might think, “How come it has not been done before?” Well, perhaps there was no need to put wheels on the legs of their quad-legged robots in the past. After all, if you were to navigate the harsh desert terrain or go through the rocky areas of the Middle East, or perhaps make your way through a war-torn area, there would rarely have any kind of flat terrain which wheels would be of any use. However, their past robots had extremely good balance -- despite being kicked over, they are able to get right back up without missing a beat. Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert’s idea of incorporating wheels into their robots is certainly impressive, albeit somewhat unsettling as well.

The new robot is known as Handle, where it will not only come with legs, but will have wheels as well. As you can see in the screenshot above, the Handle is touted to be more efficient compared to a robot that lacks wheels to go with its legs. Thanks to the presence of wheels, a small footprint is good enough for the Handle to be able to, er, handle large loads without any issues. Perhaps this is why it has been named that way.

The Handle is able to function the way it does thanks to a clever combination of both hardware and software. This juggling act allows the Handle to balance itself, and not only that, to also throw its weight around despite zipping around pretty quickly on its wheels. Heck, it even boasts of the ability to jump over an obstacle or object, now how about that? To showboat even more, the Handle is able to extend its arms while it performs an extended spin without throwing itself off balance.

Is Boston Dynamics working on lowering the cost when it comes to research and development of its prototypes? There were whispers on the ground that pointed to how Alphabet did attempt to put Boston Dynamics on the market in spring last year, and the two names that cropped up with a possible purchase were automaker Toyota of Japan and e-tailer Amazon of the US. However, nothing came to fruition with those two, leaving them as just rumors. As of last month, it seemed as though Alphabet is currently mulling over the possibility of selling its Terra Bella satellite unit to Planet Labs.

Handle as at press time does not look as though it will be ready for the masses just yet, but certainly taking the step to include wheels shows a more pragmatic side of Alphabet.

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