Boston Dynamics is a fascinating company best known for periodically releasing videos of robot prototypes of all shapes and sizes. The robots are always impressively engineered, and sometimes a little creepy. The creepiness is not by design; it’s an unintended side effect of robots that imitate human and animal movements. This makes them seem familiar and alien at the same time — half-biological and half-machine.
The robot maker is a subsidiary of search giant Google, but the company began in 1992 as a spinoff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), allowing robotics experts to continue their work on animal-like robots outside of academia. Their goal is not only to create innovative machines, but also to have them work outside of a lab, which is why in many videos you’ll see robots facing harsh conditions that would defeat most other robots, including being pushed and kicked by Boston Dynamics employees!
Below is a brief introduction to the Boston Dynamics (BD) family of robots, including the latest robot to join the clan.
Boston Dynamics recently released the video above showing the latest version of Atlas performing some parkour tricks. Atlas, a bipedal humanoid robot about 6 feet tall and weighing around 180 pounds, operates indoors and out.
It’s designed to assist emergency responders in search-and-rescue operations, performing tasks such as shutting off valves, opening doors and operating powered equipment in environments where humans cannot survive. The U.S. Department of Defense, which provides funding for Atlas, said that it had no interest in using it for offensive or defensive tasks.
The video above is particularly interesting because it shows how Atlas interacts with the world when things go wrong. At one point it’s trying to grab a box that is being moved around by someone with a hockey stick, and at another it’s being forcefully pushed flat to the ground and has to get back up by itself. Most robots aren’t this resilient when things don’t go as planned.
Atlas can even hop between platforms and do an incredibly impressive backflip.
The latest official addition to the Boston Dynamics family is a miniature version of Spot (profiled below). Unveiled in June 2016, this robot resembles a large puppy, right down to its playful hopping. While information about this new version is still to come, a previous version of this robot had a long articulated arm that it used to get up on its own after a fall. Like the earlier version, the new black-and-yellow one can navigate difficult terrain and lower itself to get under tables.
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