Atlas is, in many ways, a creature just like you: It walks upright on two legs, it can lift things and use tools, and it enjoys the occasional stroll through the woods.
Except Atlas’s eyes are cameras and lasers, and its energy comes from a far-off electrical supply. The humanoid robot is one of Google-owned robotics company Boston Dynamics’ creations, and while it can’t do everything a human can do yet, it’s getting close.
Atlas took a giant step for robot-kind recently by going on a walk in the woods – a task only the company’s four-legged robots have been seen doing in the past. It may sound like a relatively simple activity, but autonomous walking is not so easy when you don’t have a human sense of balance.
“Our focus is on balance and dynamics and working a little bit the way people and animals do where you move quickly in order to keep yourself stabilized if you’re disturbed,” Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert said at the Fab Lab Conference and Symposium earlier this month, where a video of Atlas stumbling through the woods was presented.
Several versions of Atlas were also a contestant in a robotics challenge hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in which robots were programmed to complete tasks in mock disaster scenarios. A Florida team operating an Atlas robot won second place. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's team, which also worked with Atlas, placed sixth.
But a problem most of the competition’s robots faced was following a task through to its finish, without shutting down midway. Atlas was no exception to this flaw.
“I’m not saying it can do everything you can do,” Mr. Raibert said at the conference, “but you can imagine if we keep pushing we’ll get there.”
Some of Boston Dynamics’ other creations that have been filmed completing trial walks through nature are the BigDog and the LS3. The company’s website also states that its Cheetah is the “fastest legged robot in the [world.]”