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The Next Generation of Boston Dynamics' ATLAS Robot Is Quiet, Robust, and Tether Free

The latest ATLAS is by far the most advanced humanoid robot in existence

2 min read
Boston Dynamics' ATLAS robot
Boston Dynamics' next-generation ATLAS robot can stand up by itself.
Image: Boston Dynamics via YouTube

Boston Dynamics has just posted an incredible video showcasing a massively upgraded version of the ATLAS robot that they initially developed for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. While BD calls this the “next generation” of ATLAS, it looks like such an enormous technological leap forward that it’s more like a completely different species.

“A new version of Atlas, designed to operate outdoors and inside buildings. It is electrically powered and hydraulically actuated. It uses sensors in its body and legs to balance and LIDAR and stereo sensors in its head to avoid obstacles, assess the terrain and help with navigation. This version of Atlas is about 5’ 9” tall (about a head shorter than the DRC Atlas) and weighs 180 lbs.”

Boston Dynamics' ATLAS robot next to BigDog, WildCat, and AlphaDog.From left: Boston Dynamics’ original ATLAS, next-generation ATLAS, BigDog, WildCat, and AlphaDog.Image: Boston Dynamics via YouTube

A few quick notes:

  • At 5’9” (1.75 m) and 180 lbs (82 kg), the new ATLAS is much shorter and lighter than the previous model, which was 6’2” (1.9 m) and 345 lbs (156 kg). See family photo above for comparison.
  • It looks like BD decided that electric motors aren’t yet up to the task of getting a 180-pound robot to walk around, so they stuck with the more complicated (and generally messier) hydraulic system. 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 crazy to see it running in a biped like this, because of the speed at which the limbs have to move while still supporting the upper body.
  • We’re not exactly sure how much autonomy it’s got going at this point. While walking outdoors, the LIDAR appears not to be spinning much of the time, which means someone is likely driving the robot. Some of the box lifting looks to be autonomous, but we’re definitely looking for some background on what’s going on behind the scenes when the robot is stacking boxes on those shelves.
  • It can fall over, and not only not die, but get up again by itself. There were a few layers of mats underneath the robot, and one video doesn’t reveal a whole lot about its overall robustness, but this is miles better than any other humanoid robot short of CHIMP (if you want to call CHIMP a humanoid).

We’ve pinged Boston Dynamics to see if we can get any more details, and if we do, you’ll see them here first. UPDATE 2/24/16:We spoke with Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert, who gave us more details on how his team built the new ATLAS.

[ Boston Dynamics ]

The Conversation (0)

How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
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

“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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