Parkour Atlas
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Saturday, 13 October 2018

I admit that this is about the video. To see Boston Dynamic's Atlas robot jumping around like it means it, is fascinating. How far have we come so quickly - but have we? Is this the robot you are looking for?

Before I get into anything that might be dismissive - just look at the video:

This is impressive by any standard. When you look back at the wobbly hesitant steps that the first videos showed, you can't avoid concluding that things are progressing. Boston Dynamics, however, has long been very short on explaining what we are looking at. For example, all that we have for the current video is:

Atlas does parkour. 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. (Step height 40 cm.) Atlas uses computer vision to locate itself with respect to visible markers on the approach to hit the terrain accurately.

So is the computational power in the robot or elsewhere? Is the course marked-up and the robot doing a custom program of movements? Is it doing any realtime planning? The answers to these questions would really reveal if we are looking at something special or something more like a special effects trick.


Spot the Boston Dynamics quadruped is being prepared for a commercial launch and it is far from clear that there is going to be a market for it - though I suspect there is. In this case it seems that the robot is smart enough to do mapping and location and generally find its way around:

This is what Boston Dynamics has to say:

We have begun field testing the Spot robot for commercial usage around the world. After an initial mapping run, Spot autonomously navigated two dynamic construction sites in Tokyo and used a specialized payload for surveying work progress. An additional camera in its hand lets Spot do even more detailed inspection work on site. The Spot robot will be available in the second half of 2019 for a variety of applications.

So assuming Atlas was also for sale, which one would you buy?

Atlas for scaring people, but probably Spot for getting things done.

Impressive isn't the same as usable. Atlas still has a long way to go.


More Information

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 13 October 2018 )