Google-owned robotics firm and “nightmare” factory Boston Dynamics has released video of its latest creation: a two-wheeled, four-legged hybrid robot named Handle.
The robot can stand on four legs, like Boston Dynamics’ previous creations such as BigDog and LittleDog. But at the end of its back two legs are two stabilised wheels, which let it stand up vertically and roll around at speeds of up to nine miles per hour. Think “Terminator riding on a hoverboard” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the impression Handle gives off.
Boston Dynamics says the reason for the hybrid design is the simplicity it affords: rather than needing the complex joints of the fully-quadrupedal bots, Handle’s wheels can speed it around with little difficulty, while its front legs can be used for balance and for carrying loads of up to 50kg.
“Handle uses many of the same dynamics, balance and mobile manipulation principles found in the quadruped and biped robots we build,” Boston Dynamics said, “but with only about 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex. Wheels are efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs, Handle can have the best of both worlds.” The video does not, however, show Handle walking rather that scooting around on its wheels.
The footage of Handle had previously leaked at a presentation from Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert to investors, when even Raibert described it as a “nightmare-inducing robot”.
Google’s parent company Alphabet is reportedly looking to offload Boston Dynamics, following tensions within the company about its subsidiary’s fit within the wider corporate culture. After a previous robotics video was posted to YouTube, Google communications staff sought to distance the company from the hardware, according to emails leaked to Bloomberg News, citing the feeling that such technology could be “terrifying”.
“Organizations worldwide, from DARPA, the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps to Sony Corporation turn to Boston Dynamics for advice and for help creating the most advanced robots on Earth.”