LittleDog is an appropriately named robotic dog, which stands at only five inches tall. Robot dogs have been appearing quite regularly over the past few years and some models have been turned into electronic pets. So far, LittleDog is not heading towards such an ignominious fate.
The primary purpose of this four legged robot is to successfully traverse and negotiate complex and rugged terrain. Lithium polymer batteries supply the power to the 3 motors in each leg, which enables it to have a fair amount of power at its call. It also surprisingly contains a PC level computer onboard to take care of communication, sensor controls and actuator controls. The sensor controls in particular perform very complex calculations which include measuring joint angles, foot and ground contact, orientation of the body and the motor currents.
Although Boston Dynamics manufactured LittleDog sometime ago, it was recently boosted by the addition of new software. Researchers from the University of California developed software that improved its locomotion. This gave LittleDog increased movement speed, better stability and smooth movement. Demonstrations have shown that the robot displays exceptional skill in picking good footholds on rough terrain as well as navigating difficult obstacles like stairs and chasms.
The robot is part of a project called Learning Locomotion which is funded by DARPA. The LittleDog project could very well translate into larger versions of the robot, which will help in exploration projects both here and on other planets. The researchers at USC are now focusing on humanoid robots as their next project.