Watch Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot do parkour and try not to squirm

Some people find the bot's remarkable agility unsettling.
by Shoshana Wodinsky /
Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot
This robot is better coordinated than some humans.Boston Dynamics
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If previous videos of Atlas made you uneasy, a new clip of the amped-up humanoid robot is unlikely to calm your nerves. It shows that Boston Dynamics’ battery-powered bot has moved beyond jogging and performing back flips and is now doing parkour, the obstacle course fitness regimen developed by special forces soldiers.

In the 29-second video, posted Thursday on the company’s YouTube channel, Atlas leaps over a log and gracefully zigzags its way up a series of vertical obstacles measuring about 16 inches high.

There’s nothing violent or overtly menacing about the demonstration. But people who’ve seen it seem convinced that Atlas’ remarkable agility is cause for alarm.

“Notice the humans are no longer present in the video. The robots probably murdered them all,” one commenter quipped. “Please stop making Terminators,” said another.

Why would an unarmed robot that stands less than five feet tall make us fearful? The commenter’s reference to "The Terminator," the blockbuster 1984 sci-fi horror movie, may hold a clue.

“We’re a little bit primed by dystopian narratives in science fiction and pop culture to fear an uprising of humanoid robots,” Kate Darling, a research specialist at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and an expert on human-robot interactions, told NBC News MACH in an email.

So if we’ve seen a fictional robot dispatch its human opponents with ruthless efficiency, maybe it’s easy to think ill of a real-life bot like Atlas.

Boston Dynamics has a different perspective. “This robot’s [purpose] is really to drive innovation inside our group, to push us to understand how to marry controls on complex machines,” Aaron Saunders, vice president of engineering at the Waltham, Massachusetts-based company, said in an interview earlier this year. “It is also to create an impression of what robots can do.”

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