Parkour is no longer the most amazing thing I’ve seen a robot do, it’s a robot that finds a tool bag, brings it up, and delivers it to a human operator.
This week, Boston Dynamics published the latest video demonstration of the Atlas robot (Opens in a new tab)But this one was different. In previous videos, we’ve seen the two-legged robot walk, run, dance, climb stairs, and do parkour. We’ve even seen her perform synchronized dances with a robot dog (Spot), but we’ve never seen anything like this.
In the screenplay, which features Boston Dynamics’ first human actor, a construction worker is building scaffolding until he realizes he has forgotten his tools. Enter Atlas. The now familiar robot is equipped with handles. In the video, he appears to be looking for a way to get to the worker, which involves finding a plank and making a bridge between the stairs and the scaffolding.
Atlas then locates the tool bag, grabs it, climbs the ladder, across the plank, and when level below the work platform, expertly lifts the bag back to the worker.
Naturally, Atlas can’t get off like a normal worker, and after pushing a huge wooden box off the platform, he jumps into it and then flips off the box and lands on the ground.
Fun to watch unless you’re a construction worker worried about your job.
For techies, the routine is a feat of engineering and software. In a later video (Opens in a new tab), Boston Dynamics engineers show how they programmed the onboard Atlases software to use the two cameras (one for color images and the other for depth location) to locate and find objects. There is also new programming to ensure that when Atlas lifts, throws, and moves objects, he can understand the forces of the objects on his body and not fall when he lifts something heavy.
In other words, Atlas has to use his body the same way humans do when they lift and carry packages.
“One of the hardest things about grabbing and moving things with a robot is that it creates a whole new set of challenges to try and figure out where this object I’m manipulating and how it’s moving,” a Boston Dynamics engineer explained in the video.
Although Atlas’s movements are impressive, the programming is first done in a simulation to understand how any of these movements would work on a real robot. Atlas doesn’t even know how to do anything. The simulation might work, but Boston Dynamics has to constantly reprogram and configure the robot to try to nail these movements. The final spinning coup (or “bad trick”, as it’s referred to in the video) is something Atlas couldn’t do a year ago.
Makes you wonder what Atlas could do in another year. The plan is for such a robot to eventually end up in manufacturing or construction, but we think it could be very useful in the home as well.