Boston Dynamics showcases humanoid robot in mock construction site

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The robot, known as Atlas, is being “put to work” by engineers in Massachusetts.

The Atlas robot in action. Boston Dynamics/YouTube

Once again, Boston Dynamics is making waves online after showcasing one of the company’s agile, human-like robots.

The latest update shines the spotlight on Atlas, which Boston dynamics touts as “the most dynamic humanoid robot.”

In a video posted online, a mock construction site is set up to illustrate how Atlas could be used to help humans with manual labor. A worker says outloud that he forgot his tools, taps a device, and Atlas springs into action.

Within about a minute the robot grabs a plank of wood, uses it to bridge a gap between itself and the worker, grabs a tool bag, and deftly tosses it up to the worker. Atlas tosses in a few flashy jumps and turns, evoking previous videos that highlighted its dancing and parkour skills.

“Now we’re starting to put Atlas to work and think about how the robot should be able to perceive and manipulate objects in its environment while maintaining that characteristic high level of performance that we expect from Atlas,” Scott Kuindersma, the Atlas team lead, said in a behind-the-scenes video.

To maneuver around environments like the setup inside the Boston Dynamics lab, Atlas uses cameras in its head that “work not entirely unlike human eyeballs,” Software Engineer Robin Deits said in the video.

The team at Boston Dynamics uses a method called predictive control that allows the robot to predict how its motion will need to change in the future. Deits compares this to how a human heart must pump harder when a person stands up.

“In fact, if you look at people’s heart rates, they go up before they start standing up. Your body is thinking about ‘what is my heart going to need to do now so that in half a second I’m ready to be standing,’” Deits said. “And the robot is doing exactly the same thing.”

Many social media users responded to the Atlas video with fear.

Boston Dynamics began as a spinout from MIT professor Marc Raibert’s “Leg Lab” in 1992, and did not sell its robots commercially until 2019, according to The Boston Globe.

The company has racked up millions of views online with videos of showy humanoid robots. But other robot makers eclipsed Boston Dynamics in terms of products with real-world value, focusing on commercial robots that could perform logistical tasks in places like warehouses, the Globe reported.

“It isn’t easy turning military research in perception and legged locomotion into real products,” Michael Gennert, professor emeritus of robotics engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute told the paper in November. “It isn’t surprising how long it has taken.”

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