Boston Dynamics' Atlas Robot Shows Off Parkour Skills

The agile humanoid is learning to use its whole body to leap higher than ever

1 min read
Boston Dynamics' Atlas
Image: Boston Dynamics via YouTube

The remarkable evolution of Atlas, Boston Dynamics’ most agile robot, continues. In a video posted today, Atlas is seen jumping over a log and leaping up steps like a parkour runner.

The robot has come a long way. Two years ago, Boston Dynamics, led by Marc Raibert, unveiled a massive upgrade of the original Atlas, which had been used by multiple teams at the DARPA Robotics Challenge in 2015.

The next-gen Atlas could walk on snow, pick up boxes, and even get up by itself after a fall:

Late last year, after a quiet period, Boston Dynamics surprised everyone with a video that I initially thought was CGI: Atlas jumping up and down boxes and even doing a backflip:

Then earlier this year, a new video showed Atlas running and jumping over obstacles at a park:

And now, parkour.

In a brief description of today’s video, Boston Dynamics explains that the robot is using its full body not only to balance but also to propel itself up the steps:

The control software uses the whole body including legs, arms and torso, to marshal the energy and strength for jumping over the log and leaping up the steps without breaking its pace.  (Step height 40 cm.)  Atlas uses computer vision to locate itself with respect to visible markers on the approach to hit the terrain accurately.

Compare parkour Atlas to the Atlas from five years ago:

What will Atlas be doing five years from now?

[ Boston Dynamics ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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