Atlas, the humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics, has gained new features in its most recent update. A video released by the company shows that he is now able to hold objects in his hands and throw them. The demonstration focuses on performing a task as simple as taking a suitcase and transporting it in a fictional construction scenario.
Atlas can pick up things like a piece of wood or a bag of tools. Boston Dynamics' work is remarkable considering the person is at the top of a scaffold. To achieve its objective, the robot places a plank as a bridge, goes up some stairs and throws the suitcase. The demonstration closes with a flourish by perfectly executing a 540 degree inverted spin.
According to Ben Stephens, Atlas controls lead, the new moves represent a natural progression of his ongoing research. "Parkour and dancing were interesting examples of extreme locomotion," Stephens said, referring to the 2020 viral video. "Now we're trying to take advantage of that research to do some meaningful manipulation as well," he said.
Boston Dynamics said the routine is a departure from what we've seen before and may be less flashy than the dances. The truth is that picking up an object, carrying it, and throwing it at a person is extremely complex. Engineers say performing handling tasks requires a nuanced understanding of the environment.
Added to the challenge of spotting and picking up the bag, Atlas has to keep his balance as he carries it towards his target. The Boston Dynamics team is leveraging everything learned from previous demos to take it to the next level. "It's important to us that the robot can perform these tasks with a certain amount of human speed," says Stephens. Boston Dynamics' humanoid robot could help humans in the future
Robot Boston Dynamics
The latest demo of Atlas makes us think of a future where robots work with and support humans. Although that scenario is still far from being realized, engineers at Boston Dynamics are moving one step at a time toward their goal of creating a robot that can go anywhere and do anything.
Our hope is that if we can build the foundational technology that allows us to easily create and adapt dynamic behaviors like these, we should be able to leverage it in the future to get real, physically demanding work done quickly.
Unlike Spot the dog, Atlas is a Boston Dynamics research and development platform, so the humanoid robot is not for sale. Each of the videos where he has appeared represents a substantial advance in technology that can improve his other robots.
"Parkour forces us to understand the physical limitations of the robot, and dance forces us to think about how precise and dexterous full-body movement can be," says Robin Deits, Atlas Control Team Engineer. "Now manipulation forces us to take that information and interpret it in terms of how we can make the hands do something specific," he stated.
Atlas has a gripper with one fixed and one movable finger on each hand, designed for lifting heavy objects. One of the most complex tasks is when the robot takes the wooden plank to place it between the scaffolding and some boxes. Boston Dynamics engineers mention that there are many variables at play, such as position and momentum when you make a 180-degree turn.
The final two movements also represent a breakthrough. First, when Atlas pushed the box and then fell into it, it required the robot to apply the necessary force to throw it without losing balance. The 540 degree inverted spin was a more complex maneuver that required hours of code tweaking and testing to prevent it from becoming entangled in its limbs.
While robots of the future are unlikely to perform pirouettes or dance in workplaces, Boston Dynamics uses them because they represent a fun connection to past work.