For decades, science fiction has been promising a future filled with robots that will make the various annoyances and dangers of life easier or more bearable. You might be forgiven for thinking it was all the product of overactive imaginations, but then you’re simply not looking in the right places.

Sure, robotics changed manufacturing in the ’70s and ’80s. But now a new generation of robots–either available now or in development–will take on a whole new range of tasks, and could conceivably change your life.

All that has been seen publicly of “Big Dog” so far is a pair of conceptual sketches. “We’ve got people working on prototypes in the lab, but they’re not ready to be shown publicly yet,” says Marc Raibert, president of Boston Dynamics. The robot, being built for the U.S. Department of Defense, would have four legs and would run alongside troops on their missions, carrying ammunition and performing basic reconnaissance tasks. Why run on four legs when you can roll on four wheels? “The truth is that four-legged animals have much more mobility than things that run on wheels. People and animals can go nearly anywhere on Earth,” Raibert says. If it works for the military, Big Dog would likely be adapted for civilian functions down the road. Boston Dynamics also worked with Sony in developing its line of entertainment robots.

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