If you aren’t convinced the pace of robotics is accelerating, you need only check out the new video from robotics pioneer Boston Dynamics. The group's latest humanoid robot tramps through the snow, stacks boxes, and even gets up after being pushed over.
We’ve watched the steady, sometimes surprising evolution of Boston Dynamics' robots for years. The group’s four-legged robots Big Dog and Alpha Dog were early viral hits, and later on we were stunned (and maybe a little frightened) by a video of its humanoid robot walking a treadmill in fatigues and gas mask.
A later version of that two-legged robot, Atlas, was piloted by a number of teams at the Darpa Robotics Challenge (DRC) last year. The event had successes and failures, but may be most popularly remembered for a viral video of robots falling over.
The new version of Atlas already seems like a big improvement. Here are a few notes on what makes Boston Dynamics' top humanoid robot tick:
More human than ever? The robot's abilities and design make it look pretty human. It's hard not to feel bad watching it get pushed around.
It’s lost a few pounds (and inches). The older version of Atlas was built like an NFL lineman—6’2” and 345 pounds. The new version is 5’9” and a slimmer 180 pounds.
It’s tetherless. Before the DRC, Atlas required a cord (or tether) to an external power source. Now, it roams free with a battery pack on its back.
It's got great balance. Atlas is shown roaming rough and slippery terrain without falling—an amazing feat for a two-legged robot. Atlas is packed with sensors for balance and uses LIDAR and stereo sensors in its head to map and navigate its surroundings.
It’s quiet. Early tetherless Boston Dynamics bots powered by internal combustion engines were notoriously noisy. Atlas is electrical and therefore much quieter.
It’s speedy. Many robotics videos, including those from the DRC, are played at 10x or 20x their true speed. This latest video shows Atlas moving at normal speed.
When it falls, it gets back up. In the video, Atlas takes a hard fall and gets back up on its own—an important ability that was largely (but not totally) lacking at the DRC.
It’s an Alphabet-bot. Boston Dynamics is owned by Alphabet (formerly Google), one of eight companies the tech giant acquired in 2013.
Image credit: Boston Dynamics/YouTube