Atlas Running Wild
Atlas Running Wild
Written by Sue Gee   
Tuesday, 18 August 2015

At last Atlas seems to have discovered mobility and has been allowed to go running through the woods. The robot isn't quite "running free" as it is still on a tether, but it certainly holds promise for the future.

We are used to seeing humanoid robots moving hesitantly and falling over so it is very refreshing to see the progress that Boston Dynamics is making with Atlas in this video:



At the start we see Atlas keeping its balance while walking over rubble. That sequence is in the lab, but as Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert says as the scene moves to the forest: 

out in the world is just a totally different challenge than in the lab; you can't predict what it is going to be like ... all kinds of stuff happens out there.




OK, Altas hasn't quite been let out to roam free. The power tether also provides something of a safety net but you have to agree with Raibert that his company (which is now a division of Google, or rather Alphabet since this week's announcement) is making "pretty good progress" on achieving mobility "within shooting range" of human capability.

As he explains the way humans respond is to:  

you move quickly in order to keep yourself stabilized

and this certainly seems to be the key to Atlas's new found confidence.

This performance is such a contrast to IEEE Spectrum's compilation video from the Darpa Robotics Challenge (DRC) which showed humanoid robots falling over during the final in which they had to operate without their protective tethers. It not that the robots are different, as Raibert pointed out at the Fab Lab conference many of the DRC contestants were based on the same Atlas model. What is different can be put down to pace and keeping going. You'll notice that the robots that fall do so when they are having to move slowly or even when standing still. 

The clip is extracted from the "Making Robots" panel that was recorded at the Fab Lab conference at MIT earlier this month. If you want more here is the whole session in which each of six leading roboticists were asked to report their progress in 5 minutes, followed by a Q&A.




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