Boston Dynamics, a Google subsidiary that focuses on robotics, officially unveiled their latest creation on Monday: a machine that the company’s own founder refers to as “nightmare inducing.”
Their new robot, called Handle, stands at an intimidating six and a half feet tall, with limbs that are just human-like enough to give you the creeps and wheels mounted at the bottom of its feet. According to Boston Dynamics, by coupling legs with wheels, it offers the most mobile versatility while simultaneously reducing the number of joints required to allow the machine to navigate on uneven surfaces.
“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 end result is a machine that can zip about at 9 miles per hour, handle patches of grass or stairwells with ease, and that can cover as much as fifteen miles on a single charge. The video demonstrates Handle picking up one hundred pounds without exerting significant effort, but little is known about the robot’s maximum lifting capabilities. Aside from endurance and strength, it also boasts an NBA player-like vertical leap – as the machine can launch itself four feet into the air to jump onto or over obstacles.
“This is the debut presentation of what I think will be a nightmare-inducing robot, if you’re anything like me,” Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert told a crowd earlier in February. He isn’t the only one to feel that way. According to e-mails leaked to Bloomberg News, Google wants to distance their brand from machines like Handle, citing concerns over the public finding such robots to be “terrifying.” Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is even rumored to be looking to sell Boston Dynamics over concerns about how the “nightmare factory” can fit into the brand’s wider corporate culture.
For a company that was founded with the motto, “don’t be evil,” the Handle may be a step too close to developing the Terminator for Alphabet’s taste.
Boston Dynamics also produced the four-legged robot BigDog that saw testing with the Marines but was ultimately shelved due to the noise it produced. The robot was built to carry four hundred pounds of gear, using four legs that allowed it to traverse even the roughest terrain. Ultimately, the technology proved viable, but the noise produced by BigDog’s engines was high enough that Marines feared it would give away their positions – and the robot was sent back to Boston. Handle, it would seem, has done away with the four-legged platform, opting instead to combine wheels with legs – but Boston Dynamics has indicated that the lessons they learned with BigDog haven’t gone to waste, and the wheels can be removed from Handle in order to give it the ability to cover rougher terrain that would be impossible to traverse otherwise.
You can watch Handle in action below.
Image courtesy of Boston Dynamics