Science fiction is getting ever closer to reality, as Boston Dynamics -- the Massachusetts company on the cutting edge of robot science -- proves in the latest video of its Atlas humanoid robot.
At just under 6-feet and less than 200 pounds, the newest Atlas is able to walk on its own, including through snow, and right itself when it sinks into deep snow or stumbles -- even when deliberately pushed face-down onto a warehouse floor.
Atlas may not look like The Terminator, but when it lifts itself from the floor -- first using its arms and suddenly straightening from the hips before jerking itself fully upright -- it does show the same cold-machine determination.
"It's definitely kind of jaw dropping," Ken Goldberg, robotics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told WIRED magazine on Tuesday. "They've really smoothed out a lot of the motion."
In a nearly 4-minute video, Atlas is seen trudging through the snow and then in a warehouse setting, attempting to stack 10-pound boxes. Its work is regularly interrupted by a human knocking the box out of his robotic hands and pushing and shoving him with a pole. Worker-without-rights that he is, Atlas follows after the box when it’s moved and continues trying to lift it.
Not only is the latest Atlas surer footed and able to take a hit and get back up, this version is free-roaming. Gone is the electronic tether, the cable linking and powering it from an outside source. This Atlas is battery powered. It moves about without bumping into things via Lidar navigation.
Boston Dynamics, which in 2013 was acquired by Google-X, Google's secretive research and development lab, has been developing Atlas for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. The Pentagon says it envisions Atlas as a robotic first-responder.
Of course, the Predator drone first entered the field as a strictly reconnaissance platform and we all know what they became used for.