Atlas, the humanoid robot created by Boston Dynamics and used extensively in DARPA's recent Robotics Challenge, leaves the lab in a new video to take a walk in a scenic Massachusetts forest.
"We're interested in getting this robot out in the world," explained company founder Marc Raibert, during a robotics panel at the Fab Lab conference earlier in August. "All kinds of stuff happens out there. You can't predict what it's going to be like."
Bought by Google in 2013, Boston Dynamics is perhaps best known for its uncanny quadrupedal BigDog robot (and its little sibling, Spot), though in recent years Atlas has taken center stage as humanoid robots have become more feasible. It specializes in walking and keeping its balance much the way humans do, by shifting its weight to adjust to uneven footing or unexpected obstacles.
Being able to navigate natural environments like a forest or city street are essential skills for a robot if it's going to exist outside the lab. Atlas and other robots had their abilities tested recently at the Robotics Challenge, where they had to operate machines, open doors, and perform other tasks that humans can do easily — but that cutting-edge robots still struggle to complete.
Success was mixed — many robots fell down or failed at simple tasks — but the science has inarguably made significant strides in the last few years.
"I'm not saying it can do everything you can do," said Raibert, "but you can imagine if we keep pushing we'll get there."