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Boston Dynamics Founded
Marc Raibert (b. 1949)
Boston Dynamics is a vanguard robotics company, maker of marvels such as Atlas, the autonomous 6-foot (1.8-meter) backflipping biped humanoid, and BigDog, a quadruped designed to function as a pack mule, capable of traversing landscapes too rough for any wheeled vehicle while carrying 340 pounds (154 kilograms) and moving at 4 miles (6 kilometers) an hour.
Founded by Marc Raibert, a former professor at both Carnegie Mellon and MIT, Boston Dynamics started as a spinoff from MIT. Much of Boston Dynamics’ early funding came from the US military, which wanted to find alternative solutions for missions that either were inherently dangerous for humans or required superhuman strength in an environment designed for bipedal navigation. The company also benefitted from decades of research into robotics and embodied intelligence at both academic and industrial research laboratories.
Notable robotic accomplishments include Cheetah, a running quadruped that broke the 2012 robot land-speed record by clocking in at 18 miles (29 kilometers) per hour. There is also Handle, a 6.5-foot (2-meter) robot with two legs on wheels that can jump 4 feet (1 meter) vertically, pick up and carry 100 pounds (45 kilograms), and maneuver with the balance and dexterity of both two-legged and four-legged creatures. PETMAN, the predecessor to Atlas, was designed to test the material effects of chemical weapons on protective safety suits. And then there is SandFlea, an 11-pound (5-kilogram), 6-inch (15-centimeter) -tall device on four wheels that can jump 30 feet (9 meters) in the air and land on a ledge. It can then jump back down, surviving falls from that proportionately great height.
In 2013, Google X (now part of Alphabet) purchased Boston Dynamics for an unknown sum. Four years later, in 2017, Alphabet sold the company to SoftBank, the mammoth Japanese technology company responsible for the creation of Pepper, a robot that can interpret and respond to a range of human emotions. Boston Dynamics has yet to commercialize its robots.
SEE ALSO Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (1942), Unimate: First Mass-Produced Robot (1961)
Front view of the 6-foot (2-meter) biped humanoid robot Atlas, created by Boston Dynamics and DARPA.