Tech

Advanced humanoid ‘rescue’ robot learns parkour

A couple years ago, tech company Boston Dynamics unleashed a new generation of its ‘Atlas’ robot. It could take untethered walks through a forest, balance on one leg, and even land a backflip. With a height of 4ft9 and a weight of 165 pounds, ‘Atlas’ is run on battery power and controlled by lidar and stereovision, and is compact and strong enough to haul almost 25 pounds.  Since then the humanoid robot has become a YouTube sensation whose progress is regularly updated by Boston Dynamics.

However, the humanoid robot has now begun to master parkour, a much more sophisticated human movement beyond the ability of many humans themselves. ‘Atlas’ now has sufficient processing power to use its legs, arms, and torso to balance through the movements and power up every 40cm-high step, while simultaneously using computer vision to find the next one.

In the tech company’s recent 29 second teaser, the bipedal battery-powered robot is seen using one leg to jump over a log, before deftly bounding up increasingly high wooden boxes. His mechanical limbs then adjust midair to maintain balance in a way that mirrors conventional human movements.

The tech company said in a statement posted on YouTube:

“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. Atlas uses computer vision to locate itself with respect to visible markers on the approach to hit the terrain accurately.”

Boston Dynamics has become renowned in recent years for creating robots whose movement patterns accurately mirror those of humans to an extent that is almost unnerving. A little over a year ago, the Boston Dynamics was purchased by Japanese tech firm Softbank. Since then, it has produced four-legged robots that can open doors, carry heavy items, and sprint at over 20 miles per hour.

Earlier in the year, Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert told an audience in Hanover, Germany, that the team is testing a new doglike robot called Spotmini. Apparently, the dog-like robot is a 66-pound machine that is 2 ft 9 in tall and created little sound. It runs on electricity, has 17 joints, and can power itself for 90 minutes without recharging. Raibert claims the company plans to use SpotMini in a plethora of industries, ranging from security to home assistance. Apparently, they plan to build 100 by December and plan to begin production at a rate of 1000 per year by mid-2019.

However, Atlas is still the design that has garnered the most attention.

Last May, Boston Dynamics uploaded a 34-second clip on YouTube showing Atlas going for a jog in a quiet residential area. The video, whose audio captured a distinct sound akin to a Xerox copy-machine, generated 1.5 million-page views within the first day and close to 8 million in total. Many of the comments expressed horror, equating the tech start-ups design to “The Terminator” and Skynet conspiracies.

Following the upload, the Daily Mail even wrote:

“If you thought you were able to run away from the terrifying new breed of robots, bad news”.

The company has implied that Atlas will be used in search and rescue operations, although many critics such as these fear the newly advanced tech will eventually be utilized by the United States military for nefarious purposes.