Boston Dynamics recently celebrated Atlas’ 10th birthday with a fresh upgrade. Now, the renowned robot can grip and manipulate objects to accomplish its tasks. Atlas showed off its new ability in a brief video where it proceeds to assemble and cross a simple plank bridge to deliver a set of tools to its human counterpart on an elevated platform. In what’s become typical Atlas fashion, the robot dismounts from the platform with a parkour-inspired flourish, then mugs for the camera.
Watching the ease with which Atlas goes about these experiments belies the decade-long development it’s taken to get the robot to this point. The first recognizable version of Atlas debuted in 2013 as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge, weighing a hefty 330 pounds and processing a gigabit of data per second as it tottered along an industrial treadmill.
Now, Atlas uses real-time perception, templated motions, and optimized trajectories to achieve graceful movement that’s uncannily human. 3D printed parts have helped Boston Dynamics get Atlas down to 187 pounds, enabling “diverse and agile locomotion” – i.e., the robo-parkour everyone loves to watch. But the sweet moves are a bit of a smokescreen: also on display are some of the world’s most compact mobile hydraulic systems, which enable Atlas to move and grasp objects of varying size and complexity. What’s next for Atlas remains to be seen, but Boston Dynamics has a firm grip on the future.
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