Technology 4 min read

How Boston Dynamics Created a Robot Empire

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The Boston Dynamics robot, Atlas, has come a long way in just a couple of years and can now do parkour. But will there be a point when Atlas will become too advanced?

Since MIT professor Marc Raibert founded it in 1992, Boston Dynamics has engaged in the development of biomimetic robots.

The robotics startup, located in Waltham, Massachusetts, has caught attention and aroused curiosity, and fears, with viral videos showcasing the evolution of its robots. Even in their more lighthearted videos, you can see the high level of mobility that their robots now possess.

BigDog, a tough-terrain robot developed for DARPA, was the first product to come out of Boston Dynamics’ lab.

The company’s lineup of robots include mostly quadruped robots that mimic animals and insects, but the star is probably Atlas, “The World’s Most Dynamic Humanoid.”

Since Atlas was first revealed in 2013, it hasn’t stopped evolving.

The Evolution of Boston Dynamics Robot Atlas

Boston Dynamics documented the impressive progress of the Atlas robot over the years through a series of videos showcasing the upgraded versions and what they can do.

Just five years ago, the Boston Dynamics robot Atlas could barely stay upright, and couldn’t do it without assistance.

Following the natural evolution of bipeds, just like what humans go through growing up, Atlas had to learn to stand and then walk on both legs, before it gets to running.

In 2016, Atlas was shown walking out the door, and taking a stroll on snowy terrain, proceeding with small strides.

In the same video, Atlas places 10-pound boxes on shelves and could pick itself up after a tumble.

Last year, in another video that got millions of views, Atlas leaped from one obstacle to another before reaching a high platform and performing an impressive backflip with the grace of a pro gymnast.

This was the first updated version of the bipedal machine since Alphabet, Inc. sold Boston Dynamics to SoftBank.

Atlas can do Parkour now — What Next?

The humanoid robot weighs 75 kg and measures 1.5 meters while carrying several cameras and sensors (LiDAR and Stereo Vision) that allow it to determine the obstacles and their height.

28 hydraulically-actuated joints impart Atlas with an agility that’s regulated by a dense software system.

“Atlas’ control system coordinates motions of the arms, torso and legs to achieve whole-body mobile manipulation, greatly expanding its reach and workspace.  Atlas’ ability to balance while performing tasks allows it to work in a large volume while occupying only a small footprint.”

Boston Dynamics has just released yet another video on YouTube demonstrating the latest physical feat Atlas can perform.

This time, Atlas has added parkour to its physical skill set.

In the video, Atlas advances, jumps over a tree trunk, then climbs a series of platforms, alternating between legs and without stopping.

The range of Atlas’ physical ability is rapidly expanding. With each new video of Boston Dynamics robots, and especially Atlas, the reactions fluctuate between admiration and concern.

It seems that we have to accept an inevitable future where advanced robots will outsmart and outperform humans, and prepare for it.

Superintelligent robots with physical superiority to boot could pose a serious threat to humans if they come to cut the strings that help us keep them in check.

Some were quick to hint at a Terminator-like scenario.

The achievements of Boston Dynamics has to be recognized. In just a few short years, they have risen to dominate the animatronic sector. Only time will tell what these inventions mean for the future of humanity.

Is there other robotics startups that earn as much praise and worries as Boston Dynamics?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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