Hydraulic Atlas Bows Out, Welcome Electric Atlas
Written by Sue Gee   
Sunday, 21 April 2024

Boston Dynamics dismayed us at the beginning of the week with a video that suggested was discontinuing Atlas, its humanoid robot. Fast forward a day and its successor was unveiled. Designed to be even more powerful, the new Atlas is fully electric and paves the way for the autonomy that its antecedent lacked.

The first time I Programmer encountered Atlas was a few days after its launch in July 2013, in the context of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) - see DARPA'S Atlas Robot Needs A Brain. Boston Dynamics had delivered the hardware but the robot lacked software so teams of researchers were challenged to give it the capabilities to make it an effective disaster response robot.

The original Atlas had close to human proportions, but was very much heavier at 330lb including its hydraulic power source. It used 28 hydraulically controlled joints for movement, which explains its new name HD Atlas.

The first version was powered by an umbilical cord but this changed to meet the requirements for the finals of the DRC in 2015 which stipulated that the participating robots be untethered. The updated HD Atlas had no wires of any kind and was powered by a lithium ion battery.  

Over more a decade of development, Boston Dynamics has posted a lot of video showcasing Atlas and the emphasis has always been on movement - its ability to walk over different terrains, even over rubble and to recover from falling or stumbling and later on its prowess at jumping, dance and even gymnastics. It has also developed arm and hand movements giving it the ability to grasp objects and carry loads.

The Farewell to Atlas video posted on April 16th includes footage not previously seen of some of the more dramatic fails and falls. It would be considered very entertaining were it not for the final scene in which Atlas takes a short bow, prompting the question:

"is it really curtains for this robot that has undergone so much development?"

It didn't take Boston Dynamics long to reassure us that Atlas is still very much under development, by unveiling a new all-electric Atlas designed to be even more mobile and powerful than HD Atlas. Here's the introductory video: 

The prospect of super-human capabilities is also raised in Boston Dynamics' blog post:

"We designed the electric version of Atlas to be stronger, more dexterous, and more agile. Atlas may resemble a human form factor, but we are equipping the robot to move in the most efficient way possible to complete a task, rather than being constrained by a human range of motion. Atlas will move in ways that exceed human capabilities. Combining decades of practical experience with first principles thinking, we are confident in our ability to deliver a robot uniquely capable of tackling dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks in real applications."

The blog post also reveals that Boston Dynamics views the new Atlas as a commercial product rather than just a research robot, although research will of course continue.

The new all-electric Atlas also re-opens the question of giving the robot "a brain", or rather intelligence and autonomy. Atlas HD was teleoperated, that is a human operator controlled its movements remotely, but that no longer going to be satisfactory. 

So Atlas embarks on a new journey with the prospect of finding its own route. 



More Information

An Electric New Era for Atlas

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DARPA'S Atlas Robot Needs A Brain 

Atlas Walking Over Randomness

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Atlas Robot - The Next Generation

Atlas Does Parkour And The Team Explains Why And How

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 21 April 2024 )