First BigDog, now Petman

Following in the wake of Boston Dynamics' successful BigDog is Petman, the world's first dynamic anthropomorphic robot. Army-technology.com checks in with the Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin and investigates the possibilities and advantages of such a robot.


From the manufacturers of the AlphaDog military load-carrying robot comes Petman, the lifelike, anthropomorphic robot which stands, moves and even sweats like a human.

Partly funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Petman has been billed as the world's first anthropomorphic robot to move as dynamically as a real person. Petman is designed for use in the testing of chemical protection clothing to be worn by warfighters, placing it under the kinds of stresses associated with warfighter movement to ensure it doesn't rip.

Developed at a cost of $26.3m, the Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin has been designed to represent a 50th percentile male, standing at just less than 6ft tall and weighing in at around 180lbs.

Walk, crawl and sweat

"Developed at a cost of $26.3m, the Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin has been designed to represent a 50th percentile male."

The robot is capable of balancing itself, moving freely and enacting a range of movements including walking, crawling, press-ups and star-jumps while exposed to chemical warfare agents. Petman can move at various speeds, with a top recorded speed of 4.4mph.

Not only is it capable of replicating human movement, Petman can also replicate human physiology in order to ensure protective clothing is given the most life-like test. The robot adjusts its temperature and humidity during exercise and is even capable of sweating in the same manner a human would under similar conditions.

Although the robot's range of movement might suggest the finished article, improvements to the Petman have been cited. A neck and head are currently in development, whereas the possibility of an un-tethered version has also been proposed.

Breaking the Petman from its shackles and partnering it with a reliable and sufficient power source could see it achieve all-encompassing capabilities.

A future in firefighting for Petman?

Although its principle purpose is to test protective clothing under rigorous conditions, the possibilities of an anthropomorphic robot with the degree of movement that Petman possesses could prove to be significant.

"Petman has been billed as the world's first anthropomorphic robot to move as dynamically as a real person."

Boston Dynamics president Marc Raibert has already spoken of its potential use in situations like that witnessed at the Fukushima reactors in the wake of the 2011 earthquake off the coast of Japan.

Petman-like robots could access areas with extreme levels of radiation and beam back live images or readings, allowing off-site humans to assess the situation without putting themselves at risk of exposure to hazardous materials. A similar situation could be found in burning buildings or facilities, wherein a Petman could be sent in, instead of endangering the lives of firefighters.

Boston Dynamics has been partnered by the Midwest Research Institute, Measurement Technologies Northwest, Smith Carter CUH2A and HHI Corporation for the programme, which took a total of 30 months to design, build and validate.

DARPA is due to take delivery of Petman later in 2012.