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ATLAS, the Next Generation of Humanoid Robot, Is Quieter, More Robust, and Completely Tether-Free!

boston dynamics robotIt’s been a little over a year since we checked in on the progress being made over at Boston Dynamics, the premier robotics company known for their humanoid robot ATLAS. Last time, we saw that ATLAS was getting closer and closer to walking like a human over uneven terrain. But that was back in November of 2014. What can ATLAS do today?

Well, just see for yourself! This new version of ATLAS is completely tether free (unlike earlier generations) and can walk unassisted across rough terrain like we see in the video. It can even adjust to changes in its protocols, as we see with the lab tech moving the box out of the way. And probably the coolest thing about this new ATLAS? It can pick itself up after falling over! Which is a huge improvement over what we saw in last year’s DARPA Robotics Challenge.

“The engineering team did a huge amount of work to make ATLAS lighter and more compact,” says Marc Raibert, founder and president of Boston Dynamics. “One thing we did was use 3D printing to create the legs, so the actuators and hydraulic lines are embedded in the structure, rather than made out of separate components. We also developed custom servo-valves that are significantly smaller and lighter (and work better) than the aerospace versions we had been using.”

Speaking of the Robotics Challenge, ATLAS was specifically designed for this competition, with many teams modeling their entries off of the ATLAS robot. The contest pits several robotics groups against each other to complete tasks related to disaster relief—like walking over rubble or clearing debris away from doors. The contest rewards the robot who can complete the tasks in the quickest amount of time and grants the team a cash prize to continue improving their robot in the future.

IEEE Spectrum has some of the stats on this new version of ATLAS:

  • At 5’9” and 180 lbs. the new ATLAS is much shorter and lighter than the previous model, which was 6’2” and 345 lbs.
  • Boston Dynamics seems to have gone with the more complicated (and generally messier) hydraulic system rather than an electric motor, probably because an electric motor doesn’t (yet) have the power to move a 180-pound robot. Other legged robots do this too, and it seems like a reasonable compromise between the quiet efficiency of electricity and the power of hydraulics.
  • That dynamic balancing reminds us a lot of the early BigDog videos, but it’s still crazy to see it running like a human on two legs!

So now the big question on everyone’s mind is this: where does ATLAS go from here? Raibert wouldn’t give specifics, but indicated that as far as Boston Dynamics is concerned, its vision remains the same as when he started it 24 years ago. “Our long-term goal is to make robots that have mobility, dexterity, perception and intelligence comparable to humans and animals, or perhaps exceeding them; this robot is a step along the way.”

Photo credit: Boston Dynamics

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