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This year's DARPA Robotics Challenge, in which teams have their robots attempt to autonomously perform a number of demanding tasks, will be quieter and less cluttered thanks to improvements made to Atlas, the standard-issue bot made available to qualifying teams. Designed by Google-owned Boston Dynamics but the result of years of Defense Department funding, Atlas is one of the world's leading humanoid robots, and the latest iteration is a complete overhaul of its core systems. For one thing, it's entirely powered by a battery pack, and needs no cable. Its new pump system, powering the pneumatic limbs, is also quiet enough that "the teams can actually operate this robot without the need for hearing protection," enthused Boston Dynamics project manager Joe Bondaryk in a video showing off the new bot.

Repositioned shoulders mean more convenient access to human-level tools and surfaces, and improved lower arms let Atlas do things like turn a doorknob with ease. Teams will need all these capabilities if they're to get anywhere near competing the tasks set forth in the 2015 Robotics Challenge, due to take place in early June in Pomona, California.

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—Devin Coldewey