A remote-controlled robot is being developed by the U.S. Army to rescue injured or abducted soldiers, without putting their comrades at risk.
The 1.8-metre-tall Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot (Bear) will be able to travel over bumpy terrain and squeeze through doorways while carrying an injured soldier in its arms, says its its developer, Vecna Technologies of College Park, Maryland.
The prototype Bear torso is being designed to lift over 135 kilograms with one arm, and according to Vecna Technologies, is now focusing on improving its two-legged lower body.
The robot recently showed how it can climb up and down stairs with a human-size dummy in its arms.
Daniel Theobald, Vecna's president, said the "Bear" can also do things no human can, such as carrying heavy loads over considerable distances without tiring, carrying an injured soldier while kneeling or lying down, moving through tall grass or behind a wall without being spotted.
He also said that the robot's hydraulic arms are designed to pick up loads in a single smooth movement, to avoid causing pain to wounded soldiers. While the existing prototype slides its arms under its burden like a forklift, future versions will be fitted with manoeuvrable hands to gently scoop up casualties, he added.
The robot to climb easily over rough terrain or up and down stairs while crouching or kneeling. It also has wheels at its hips, knees and feet, so it can switch to two wheels to travel efficiently over smooth surfaces while adopting a variety of positions.
To keep it steady no matter what position it adopts, Bear is fitted with accelerometers to monitor the movement of its torso, and gyroscopes to detect any rotation of its body that might indicate it is about to lose its balance. Computer-controlled motors adjust the position of its lower body accordingly to prevent it toppling over.
The robot's humanoid body and teddy bear-style head give it a friendly appearance, says Gary Gilbert of the US army's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center in Frederick, Maryland, which provided the initial funding for Bear's development. Congress has since added a further 1.1 million dollars.
The Bear's work will also include mundane tasks such as loading trucks and carrying equipment for soldiers and is expected to be ready for field testing in less than five years.