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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 ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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