Boston Dynamics’ humanoid bot, Atlas, continues to impress. A video dropped today shows two robots navigating a complex obstacle course like a boss. The bipedal bots run up a series of plywood panels, leap over gaps and a balanced beam, and even conduct perfectly synchronized backflips as if it were no big deal.
But their most human-inspired behavior comes after the completion of the parkour course – when one of the bots brushes off its shoulders while the other pumps its arm like a big-league pitcher after a game-ending strikeout.
Unlike the Hyundai-owned robotics company’s primetime commercial products – Spot, Stretch, and Pick – Atlas is a research platform designed to push the limits of whole-body mobility. We have seen it attempt parkour before. But this time, the perfectionism on display has gone up several notches.
This time, the robot is sensing and reacting to its environment. Which means the engineers are no longer preprogramming jumping motions for all possible platforms and gaps Atlas might encounter. Instead, the team is relying on a smaller number of template behaviors that can be matched to the environment and executed online.
The results are pretty mind-blowing:
Why is Boston Dynamics teaching Atlas to run through an obstacle course?
Interestingly, the robotics engineers who have been working on this routine for months are still not satisfied. “If you watch the video closely, [the arm-pumping move] looks a little awkward,” shrugs Atlas team lead, Scott Kuindersma.
But given how impressed these robots already leave us, does it really matter that one small action isn’t perfect? Do we really need a robot that can mimic human behavior to an uncanny degree?
Yes, insists Kuindersma, because humanoids like Atlas are the “go-anywhere, do-anything” robots of the future. He explains:
They may not be the best design for any particular task, but if you wanted to build one platform that could perform a wide variety of physical tasks, we already know that a human form factor is capable of doing that.
Ultimately, pushing the limits on a humanoid robot like Atlas drives hardware and software innovation that translates to all of our robots at Boston Dynamics.
Parkour, the company details, gives the Atlas team a perfect sandbox to experiment with new behaviors. It’s a whole-body activity that requires Atlas to maintain its balance in different situations and seamlessly switch between one behavior and another. Adds Kuindersma:
It’s really about creating behaviors at the limits of the robot’s capabilities and getting them all to work together in a flexible control system. There are many important problems that parkour doesn’t force you to address, but that’s not the point. We’re not trying to solve everything all at once. The work we’re doing now is allowing us to create a solid foundation for tackling the next set of research problems.
Behind-the-scenes video with Atlas team
If you’ve also been left as fascinated by Atlas as we are, you might like to watch another video that Boston Dynamics has released today. It takes you through the development process of the humanoid and is pretty cool:
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