Big robots like Cheetah and Big Dog cost a lot to make, so it would be such a shame if they get put out of commission after slipping on, say, a patch of ice. To prevent that from happening, UC Berkeley and ETH Zurich researchers propose sending a team of small, expendable robots ahead of the big, expensive one to scout terrain conditions -- in the event that they do get used for real missions, that is. The researchers demonstrated their idea at the IEEE robotics conference in Hong Kong, where they used UC Berkeley's tiny cardboard robot called VelociRoACH to do recon work for ETH Zurich's StarlETH.

They loaded the smaller machine with the ability to send back terrain data to the bigger quadruped, which, in turn, is equipped with a camera to monitor its minion's location. Thanks to this kind of setup, the scout robot can tell the main unit if an area's too unstable to step on, and the bigger machine can avoid that exact spot. During real missions, that'll probably mean losing scouts along the way, but that's the idea anyway: sacrifice cheap robots for the sake of the multi-million dollar creation.