Boston Dynamics creates new wheeled robot after Marines ditch loud gas-powered mule


The US Marines are experimenting with robots again, this time ditching their noisy “mule” robot for one that can speed around on two wheels.

When the US Marines were tinkering with the idea of a robotic pack mule to carry some of the ever-increasing loads Devil Dogs face in the field, they were introduced to “Spot,” a quadruped “big dog” mechanical beast that resembled a canine without a head.

Unfortunately for the Marines (and Spot), Spot was not very surefooted and his propulsion system was anything but quiet. In September of 2015, Spot was sent out to pasture -denied by the Marine Corps.

However, the dream of robots in the USMC was anything but crushed: enter Boston Dynamics’ mechanized wonder, Handle.

Standing on two legs with wheels for feet, Handle resembles a mecha on a hoverboard that just happens to be able to lift heavy weights with two humanoid arms.

Unlike his clunky cousins, Handle is able to move with great agility at speed, leap into the air and even perform acrobatic maneuvers. Like a Tyco RC car on steroids, Handle is hard to topple- except, maybe if there were stairs involved.

While Handle is still a prototype with limitations, he is a proof-of-concept that gets designers dreaming about transformable robots for different environments.

“We can wear various contraptions to allow us to skate on ice, go underwater for days at a time, and even fly to the moon,” says roboticist Jerry Pratt of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, speaking of how humans have developed modular apparatus to help them adapt. “It would be great to see a version of the Boston Dynamics Handle robot that can roll around fast on city streets but then take off its wheels and walk inside a building.”

According to Wired, Handle represents much possibility for the US Military, from heavy lifting to going on patrols with troops.

While Handle is just the beginning, he most certainly won’t be the end: hopefully, we’ve watched enough Terminator films to reach for the true potential of military robotics- you know, without all the “kill all humans” angle.

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Author

  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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