When it comes to robotics companies, few can compare with Boston Dynamics, the group previously owned by Google (today by Softbank Group), whose most famous creations are its quadruped dog robots, including the likes of BigDog and Spot. That may be true, but a new Chinese robotics startup wants to take on Boston Dynamics at its own game — and it released footage of its own canine robot to showcase how serious it is.
The company, Unitree Robotics, was recently founded by Chinese roboticist Xing Wang, with help from Chinese angel investors. The startup is based in Hangzhou, near Shanghai, and has ambitious plans to make robots every bit as mass market as drones and smartphones. In keeping with the Boston Dynamics model, Unitree’s first robot is a four-legged robot dog named Laikago after the Soviet space dog, Laika, which in 1957 became the first animal to orbit the Earth.
Laikago boasts the ability to be able to navigate on a range of surfaces, and — like BigDog and the smaller Spot — is able to climb up a grass slope without a problem. It’s also built with stability in mind and promises to be able to adapt its jointed legs to external disturbances like kicks so as to avoid toppling over. There are also nifty features like thermal management for each of its 12 high-performance motors, so that if it gets over exerted it will emit a warning sound, revealing that it needs to be turned off or rested.
At present, it’s still relatively basic compared to a project like Boston Dynamics’. It can’t, for example, work autonomously, and needs to be remotely operated by way of a Wi-Fi-enabled controller. If at some point the plan is to make Laikago capable of moving around without a human controlling it, it’s going to require the incorporation of additional features such as image-recognition cameras and lidar sensors to work out which objects are nearby.
Wang has said he plans to sell the finished robot for up to $30,000, although that price will likely come down if he’s able to make this into the mass-market product he’s hoping for.
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