Engineers Bully Humanoid Robot with Hockey Sticks
Erin Green posted on February 25, 2016 |
Watch Boston Dynamics’ Atlas droid lift boxes and recover from face-plants with human-like skill.

Way back in 2015, we all received a little holiday cheer from the festive “reindeer” robots over at Boston Dynamics. The Spot ‘bots, which were a smaller version of the iconic BigDog, were dressed up in antlers and red noses to celebrate the season.

Just a few days later, they got a lump of coal when the US Marines rejected the robotic quadrupeds for being too noisy.

Now, the robotics company with a penchant for beating up its designs has turned its attentions to building and bullying a bipedal droid.

This latest project is a new version of the Atlas droid and it’s on a mission to prove that humanoid bots are here—and neither door nor face-plant will stop them.


The Next Generation

The robot in the video is the most recent iteration of the company’s Atlas ‘bot. It’s part of the mission to mimic human movement using droids equipped with foundational robotics software.

Atlas is about the size of an adult human male and can handle even slippery winter conditions. (Image courtesy of Boston Dynamics.)

Atlas is about the size of an adult human male and can handle even slippery winter conditions. (Image courtesy of Boston Dynamics.)

True in its effort to mimic humans, Atlas is about 5’9” and weighs 180 lbs.—the approximate size and weight of an average adult male. It even walks like a human (more or less), using two flat feet and moving side to side to keep itself balanced.

It can open doors (though doorknobs might still prove a challenge) and even rights itself after a nasty spill—which is a feat in itself for something so top-heavy.

Atlas also shows prowess when it comes to lifting. In the video, it lifts 10-lb. boxes from the floor to shoulder-level shelves in an effective but unnatural way—if a human were to try that technique, back muscles and Achilles tendons alike would be in peril.

 

Spot-On

The metal and plastic humanoid appears to be a hybrid between previous Atlas and Spot technologies. Much like the evolution of BigDog into Spot, Atlas has gotten smaller, sleeker and more aware of its surroundings.

It uses the same spinning sensor head as Spot and other Boston Dynamics ‘bots. This LiDAR-equipped sensor, along with additional sensors in its body and legs, help it stay balanced in the face of slippery surfaces and rogue hockey equipment.

It also propels itself using an electric motor and hydraulic actuation that is presumably a similar system to the Spot bots’. Unlike previous designs, this Atlas doesn’t need to be tethered to an off-board electric power supply to run properly.

 

A Robot with Military Applications?

It’s unclear whether the US Marines rejected all bots or just BigDog. However, the Atlas droids of Boston Dynamics (which is owned by Alphabet) could have a huge influence on the future of warfare.

I've fallen and I can't get up: After a tumble like this, most humanoid robots are unable to right themselves. (Image courtesy of DARPA.)

I've fallen and I can't get up: After a tumble like this, most humanoid robots are unable to right themselves. (Image courtesy of DARPA.)

Humanoid robots are of particular interest to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which holds an annual Robotics Challenge for the purpose of testing these bots.

One of the main issues for those robots (many of which were Atlas bodies adapted with software packets) was the bad habit of falling over. Not one could pick itself back up.

This new version of Atlas, however, can pick itself up after a face-plant and carry on about its business in an astonishingly human-like fashion.

If there’s one thing that Atlas proves in its teaser video, it’s that the not-so-little robot can do anything a human can. And whether Atlas does end up joining the army or not, one thing is clear: we are slowly creating our successors.


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