If you see a highly sophisticated robotic dog walk or run towards you, and hop over obstacles with surprising agility while carrying a payload of up to 50kg, it is in no small measure due to the durable, high-performance Trelleborg seals in the hydraulic actuators that power the legs of BigDog.
"Making a mechanical dog walk and run was an unusual project," admitted a spokesman for Trelleborg Sealing Solutions, "since these types of seals are most commonly used for aircraft landing gear and industrial equipment."
BigDog, which moves like a living creature and senses its surroundings, has already been put through its paces in the Massachusetts countryside, and its second-generation successor LS3 (short for Legged Squad Support System), were developed and built by a small cutting-edge outfit called Boston Dynamics with funding from the Pentagon’s research arm, DARPA.
"About half the Earth’s landmass is inaccessible to wheeled and tracked vehicles," said Boston Dynamics’ founder, professor Marc Raibert, explaining the motivation behind the creation of BigDog, "but people and animals can go almost anywhere on foot."
LS3, which is in the testing phase, will be an upgraded version of BigDog, with greater load-carrying capacity and a walking range of up to 20 miles before it needs to refuel.
It will be able to obey simple commands from humans, such as ‘follow me’ or ‘wait’, which can be issued through a handheld device. While BigDog has sensors in its legs to feel the terrain, its successor will also be able to see and obtain a location fix via GPS.
The unique project has already led to closer collaboration between the two companies. Trelleborg is supplying high-end seals for the LS3 and for the Boston Dynamics’ latest robot, a humanoid creature dubbed Petman, which will be used by the US Army to test chemical-protection clothing.
"We developed Petman from a clean sheet of paper to a walking robot in just eight months," said Raibert. On a lab treadmill, the company’s latest creation is up and running, heel to toe, just like a human does.
Trelleborg Sealing Solutions (Stand S3-265) develops, manufactures and supplies precision seals that are designed to withstand abuse, show minimal wear and will not leak under adverse conditions. Made from polytetrafluoroethylene-based sealing compounds, the seals operate reliably at temperatures ranging from -70°C to +260°C and remain functional even in a debris-filled environment at high speeds and pressures.