Editor’s take: Watching the evolution of Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot will likely elicit one of two feelings: wonder at how the machine is becoming more human-like in its abilities that might benefit the world, or terror as we view the first stage of a machine that could, at best, take jobs and, at worst, enslave us all. Either way, the company’s new video is pretty impressive.
The latest demo video showcasing Atlas’ talents illustrates how far the robot has come and the potential for its practical uses. The bipedal machine could barely walk when it first arrived. By 2017, it was performing parkour and backflips. A year later, Atlas was jogging, leaping over logs, and bounding from one 40cm step to another, using its legs, arms, and torso to drive its jumps and for balancing. It progressed to full-on gymnastics in 2019.
Like some of the company’s other robots, there have long been questions over Atlas’ practical applications. Those have been answered in Boston Dynamics’ latest Atlas demo video, in which the new hand grippers, first seen in a Super Bowl commercial, allow the robot to aid a (fake) construction worker.
Watching Atlas pick up a 2×8 and use it to create a bridge before navigating the scaffolding while carrying a pack of tools is pretty amazing. The robot is also able to throw a bag up to the worker using a 180-degree jump, finishing off its display with a 540-degree, multi-axis flip that project engineers have dubbed the “Sick Trick,” which is a lot more advanced than the parkour it previously showed off.
We probably shouldn’t worry about entire construction sites filled with Atlas robots just yet: it still makes plenty of mistakes that are edited out of these videos. Atlas controls lead Ben Stephens said researchers are still a “long way off” from creating humanoid robots that can routinely tackle dirty and dangerous jobs in the real world.
Boston Dynamics currently only sells two robot models: Stretch, used in warehouses to move boxes; and Spot, which is utilized for various tasks, including surveillance and mapping. With this latest video, Atlas looks to be on the slow track toward finding its ideal profession. Thankfully, Boston Dynamics previously asked people not to use its robots as weapons.