In movies, robots look like us and can do everything we can—only they’re smarter, stronger, faster, and have questionable motives. Robotics firm, Boston Dynamics, may have a lot to do with whether or not such a future comes to be. The firm's most recent video shows its Atlas robot navigating a field of rubble with human-like dexterity.
In the past, Atlas and its predecessor, Petman, could maintain their balance when pushed, walk, do pushups, and squat. But walking on rocks is a new feat. Until now, the only Boston Dynamics robots navigating uneven terrain were the four-legged kind.
The feedback and systems control required to stay balanced as the forces underfoot change with each step is impressive. The robot uses a variety of sensor data to maneuver its upper body and arms to stay upright.
One imagines Atlas isn't far from graduating the lab. Though the robot is headless and handless here, the final design calls for an articulated head with stereo cameras and a laser range finder and sensate hands capable of using human tools.
In its current form, there's no mistaking Atlas for a human. But its sibling, Petman, caused something of a stir earlier this year when, decked out in chamo and gas mask, it strode into our apocalyptic nightmares. With all the wiring hidden, Petman’s movements were mechanical—but only just. Really. It’s a pretty cool video. (Check it out below.)
So, is Boston Dynamics building a droid army for Darpa? Of course not. The robots' capabilities and potential military applications are still limited...for now.