April 5, 2013 at 2:35 PM ET
The creators of the eerily beast-like BigDog robot have shown off a new creation on video. The formerly headless "Petman" anthropomorphic robot has gained both a cranium and a set of clothes — but its jaunty step is still the same, in a video shared Friday.
Boston Dynamics created Petman not to be a helper on the battlefield, like BigDog, but to work in the lab, testing protective clothing. Once the robot is outfitted with the latest hazardous materials suit or flak jacket, it can then walk, crouch, jump and generally move realistically, giving the new duds a good workout.
But why use a robot at all? Why not a lab assistant? Because the tests may include exposure to chemical warfare agents. No one but a robot is going to sign up to be be sprayed with nerve gas, especially in new, unproven gear.
In order to better simulate a human inside the suit, Petman actually produces sweat and heat, and is equipped with temperature and chemical sensors so that it can tell if a normal human would have passed out or keeled over.
Petman was created with funds from the Defense Department's Chemical and Biological Defense program. You won't see one walking the streets any time soon (as good as it might look doing it) — but keep an eye out for the Atlas robot, also built by Boston Dynamics, and meant to navigate actual terrain. It should be showing up on video later this year.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.