Release the hounds: Are four-legged robot “dogs” the future of package delivery?

A German robotics company came up with an automated package delivery system that sounds rather like a Decepticon from “Transformers.” Their concept showed a driver-less vehicle that will transport a Swiss-designed quadrupedal robot to the customer’s location. The robot “dog” will disembark from its ride and deliver the package.

The company, Continental, designed an automated delivery van called the CUbe. The boxy vehicle can fit several of the four-legged ANYmal robots designed by Swiss counterpart ANYbotics, whose machines are so smart that they can open doors and use elevators.

The robot car and its equally robotic passengers will drive to their destination. Upon arriving, CUbe will open its rear door and unleash the robot dog that is carrying the package. The smaller ANYmal robot will bring its payload to the doorstep of the customer.

Continental spokespersons presented a video demonstration of their robot package delivery service at a recent tech show in Las Vegas. In the demo, the ANYmal robot exited the CUbE, navigated various obstacles between it and the front door of the model home, deposited the package on the front porch, and rang the doorbell with a front leg. (Related: Will future psychologists be…robots?)

Germans designed a driver-less vehicle for Swiss-made robot delivery “dog”

The last-mile part of the delivery process covered how a package will be transported from the warehouse to the doorstep of the customer. Continental official Ralph Lauxmann believed that his company’s proposed robot delivery system would make this process even more efficient.

Fortunately, it will take some time for Continental to turn the concept of robot delivery dogs bursting out of driver-less vehicles into reality. Its partner company, however, is another story.

Founded by researchers from ETH Zurich University, ANYbotics had been perfecting its four-legged robots for quite some time now. The ANYmal unit it provided for Continental’s demo video is so agile that it could keep moving even after a human deliberately knocked it down.

The ANYmal autonomous robot is supposedly capable of crossing any terrain, including areas that are too dangerous for humans. Its robotic legs allow it to keep pace with a human, and its body can support up to 22 lbs of cargo.

ANYbotics released several videos of its flagship robot accomplishing various tasks. One video showed how ANYmal opened a door despite not being fitted with gripper hands; its legs possessed enough articulation to turn the handle like the Velociraptors from the first Jurassic Park movie. Another clip showed it summoning an elevator by pushing a button, waiting for the car to arrive, and going inside the moment the doors opened.

Any robot that chases Mulder and Scully cannot be up to any good

ANYmal’s eerie capabilities earned it an appearance on the television show The X-Files. In the episode, the autonomous robot chased the protagonists through a shadowy hallway.

“For decades, people are fascinated by robots, and this fascination has not worn off,” ETH Zurich researcher Peter Fankhauser wrote in a blog post. “So when we got a call with the question if our robotic platform Anymal could be part of the X-Files, we were super excited.”

Fankhauser stressed that ANYmal could do much more than just hunt down Agents Mulder and Scully. The robot could find its way through varying terrain with the help of the veritable array of cameras and sensors on its body.

Its complex sensory suite scanned the surroundings on a continuous basis. ANYmal could pick out a safe path even in a cluttered or dangerous environment, such as after a disaster. It could climb and descend stairs, get over tall barriers, and even crawl into tight spaces.

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