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11/1/2011
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U.S. Military Robot Tests Chemical Warfare Gear

Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin (PETMAN), developed by Boston Dynamics, is soldier-size and moves with similar agility to humans.

>Slideshow: Next Generation Defense Technologies
Slideshow: Next Generation Defense Technologies
(click for larger image and for full slideshow)
A Boston company has developed a human-size robot the military plans to use to test the clothing soldiers would wear to protect themselves against chemical warfare.

Called Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin (PETMAN), the robot stands nearly six feet tall and weighs 180 pounds and can balance itself and move freely, similar to a human being, according to Boston Dynamics, the company that developed the machine.

Boston Dynamics released a video online showing the robot executing a series of movements that humans can perform. The video shows the robot running on a treadmill, performing push-ups and other exercises, and recovering its balance after a push.

The idea behind such agile movement is to test as accurately as possible how a soldier might move and react while wearing the protective gear. PETMAN even can sweat when wearing a protective suit to provide optimal test conditions, according to the company.

[Want to read about other government robotics projects? See Robofin Could Help Naval Ships Find Mines.]

It took Boston Dynamics 13 months to design PETMAN, and another 17 months to build, install, and validate the robot. The company worked with partners Midwest Research Institute, Measurement Technologies Northwest, Smith Carter CUH2A (SCC), and HHI Corporation.

Boston Dynamics has been developing robots for military use for some time. Three years ago the company delivered BigDog robot, a four-legged machine that could carry heavy loads and traverse rough terrain, for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The Department of Defense (DOD) has significantly increased its interest in and use of robotics in the past decade, particularly through its use of remotely controlled unmanned aerial vehicles--such as Predator drones--in U.S. military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq.

DARPA also has other programs that test how robots can be useful alongside soldiers in military engagements.

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