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Science & Research

Meet Petman, Your Friendly Neighborhood Robotic Hazmat Specialist

Meet Petman, Your Friendly Neighborhood Robotic Hazmat Specialist

Courtesy Boston Dynamics via YouTube

In the future, robots will give children piggyback rides to school. Or at least, that’s what I’ve been imagining after seeing the latest creation Boston Dynamics has popped onto YouTube. Please say hello to Petman.

The video is equal parts astonishing and creepy as the Petman does a funky walk, crouches down, and then lifts up his/its arms as if to say, “Don’t shoot. I only look like a cyborg sent from the future to kill you. I’m actually trying my best to do a jumping jack.”

Boston Dynamics has been detailing the progress of its Petman project on YouTube (GOOG) for more than a year. We’re told that the contraption was built on the back of funding from the Department of Defense. The latest video provides a taste of what a robotic hazmat soldier might look like with its gas mask and chemical protection suit laid over mechanical innards. “Petman has sensors embedded in its skin that detect any chemicals leaking through the suit,” the company says on its website. “The skin also maintains a micro-climate inside the clothing.”

You may have run across some of Boston Dynamics’s other creatures on YouTube. The company has a distinctive design aesthetic and a real knack for creating, and I believe this is a technical term, animal-inspired freakazoids. Who can forget the Cheetah robot running at almost 30 miles per hour?

Or BigDog hanging out on the beach in Thailand?

The company has been around since 1992 making these wonderful contraptions. For obvious reasons, the U.S. military has taken a particular liking to Boston Dynamics products. That said, I remain hopeful for the jeans-wearing Petman that will get my kids to school and back safely. You know, walk with them, maybe joke around, eliminate threats as necessary.

Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Palo Alto, Calif. He is the author of Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (HarperCollins, May 2015). Follow him on Twitter @valleyhack.

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