Boston Dynamics released a new demo video of its Atlas robot on Wednesday, showcasing its impressive agility and dexterity. The video shows the robot delivering a tool bag to the top of a scaffolding using only its parkour abilities, ahead of the inevitable reactions on social media about the robot being like Skynet.
The Atlas robot demonstrates advanced planning and problem-solving skills by placing a wooden plank across a gap before picking up the tool bag. It then navigates a set of stairs, balances the plank, climbs up ledges, turns around by spinning, and carefully throws the suitcase onto the platform above. The robot then pushes a box off the platform while avoiding falling over the side and concludes the demonstration with an impressive inverted 540-degree flip, which the engineers have referred to as the “Sick Trick” in the release.
Parkour helps us understand the physical limitations of the robot. In contrast, dance helps us to develop precise and dexterous whole-body movement,” said Robin Deits, a software engineer on the Atlas controls team in the release. “Now, with manipulation, we apply that information to specific tasks that the robot’s hands can perform. The Atlas project is unique because we keep seeing the other things we have learned.
The demonstration may seem simple, but it is not. At the beginning of the 2000s, bipedal robots were easily destabilized and could not climb stairs. In 2015, robots were still clumsy and often fell over. Today, Boston Dynamics’ robots, at least, can outrun, outjump and outclimb the average sedentary person. It’s fortunate that the company, along with six other leaders in the robotics industry, has pledged not to use their robots for military purposes.
Although the demonstration is impressive, Atlas robots will likely replace local delivery drivers sometime soon, as it took significant time and effort to develop this capability. Also, the union would never allow it. In addition, the behind-the-scenes video showed that the robot sustained various damages, such as dents, scrapes, and scratches, while learning this routine and fell multiple times.
“This demonstration is more about showing some of the new control capabilities of the robot and connecting it to our previous work,” said Scott Kuindersma, the Atlas team lead. “Our goal is to build foundational technology to easily create and adapt dynamic behaviors like these to perform physically demanding jobs in the future. Many components are needed to deliver a complete solution in fields like manufacturing or construction – this video only shows a small part of what we are working on.” So, it may not be the highly agile acrobats that we need to worry about, but rather robots equipped with high explosives and controlled by the police.