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Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot grows set of hands, tries construction jobs

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot grows set of hands, tries construction jobs

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Boston Dynamics’ Atlas — the world’s most advanced humanoid robot — is learning some new tricks. The company finally gave Atlas good hands at Boston Dynamics as well latest video on YouTube, Atlas tries to do real work. He also released another one behind the scenes video showing some of the work that goes into Atlas. And when things don’t go right, we see some spectacular blows the robot takes in its efforts to develop humanoid robotics.

As a humanoid robot, Atlas focuses primarily on locomotion, starting by walking in a lab, then walking on any kind of unstable terrain imaginable, then doing some sick parkour tricks. However, the movement is only related to the legs, and the upper half seemed mostly like an afterthought, with the arms only being used to swing around for balance. Atlas previously didn’t even have one hands-the last time we saw him, he only had two unfinished looking balls at the end of his hands.

This latest iteration of the robot has actual grippers. It’s simple clamp-style hands with a wrist and a single moving finger, but it’s good enough for picking things up. The purpose of this video is to move “inertially significant” objects – not just lifting light boxes, but objects so heavy that they can throw the Atlas off balance. This includes things like a big board, a bag full of tools, and two 10-pound barbells. Atlas learns all about these “equal and opposite forces” in the world.

Like everything in robotics, picking up and carrying an object is more complicated than it seems. Atlas has to figure out where it is in the world in relation to the object it’s picking up, come up with a plan to grasp the hands, and lift and manipulate the object while calculating how that extra mass will affect its balance. As Boston Dynamics software engineer Robin Dates explains in the video, “When we’re trying to manipulate something like a board, we have to just make some pretty educated guesses about where the board is, how fast it’s moving, how you have to move the arms to make the board to turn 180 degrees very quickly, and if we get those estimates wrong, we end up doing stupid things and falling.”

However, Atlas doesn’t just clumsily pick things up and carry them. Runs, jumps and spins while carrying heavy objects. At one point she jumps up and throws the heavy toolbox next to its construction partner, all without losing balance. It also does all of this on rickety scaffolding and makeshift boardwalks, so the ground constantly shifts beneath Atlas’ feet with every step. Picking things up is the start of training the robot to do real work, and it looks right at home on a rough construction site. Simple grips mean the Atlas crushes anything it picks up, but items like the board show visible damage where hands dug into it. Perhaps the next set of experiments will teach Atlas not to be such a clumsy gorilla.


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