Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot ‘Taught’ by Researchers to Be More Nimble

The Boston Dynamics funded Atlas robot is a part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge program. (Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
The Boston Dynamics funded Atlas robot is a part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge program (Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

 

Atlas just got its sea legs. The six-foot-tall humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics, the Google-owned robotics company known for its advanced life-like creations, can now walk over uneven terrain in a giant leap forward in its capabilities. Already impressive (or terrifying, depending on your worldview), Atlas was given an upgrade to improve its stability with an algorithm written by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IMHC).

IMHC’s algorithm helps Atlas balance better by dynamically testing the terrain with each step and redistributing its weight around afterward to test its new foothold. Gingerly stepping across a cluster of haphazardly arranged cinder blocks—like someone crossing a stream on stepping stones—the 380-pound robot looks more human-like than it ever did before (see below).

 

Making the bipedal bot move in a more life-like manner has been the goal of an IMHC research team for the last several years. The Florida-based robotics group was one of several throughout the country to experiment with Boston Dynamics’ latest offering through a government-led challenge (DARPA) to improve the field of robotics in the United States. Last summer, IMHC placed second out of 21 teams worldwide in the competition that required the team-led bots to complete eight tasks resembling real-world scenarios, such as driving a car.

 

IMHC continues to work with Atlas, developing its ability to complete tasks on par with that of a human. Boston Dynamics will likely build off the research demonstrated in the above video to improve Atlas’ ability to interact with objects while balancing. Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert hinted at this while speaking at a conference in Barcelona this month. “Many people are talking about drone delivery….So why not just plain legged robots?” Raibert told the audience.

Learn more about the future of robots, particularly with Atlas, by watching a recap of last year’s DARPA challenge below.


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