By Nick Stockton for Wired – ONE OF THESE days, Boston Dynamics—the Alphabet-owned robot company from Beantown—is going to push its robots too far. I mean, just look at their latest video, in which they shove, trip, and play keep away from a robot named Atlas. Sure, the droid walks funny, but if they keep messing around I swear Atlas is going to flip the script on these guys and next thing you know it’s Judgment Day.
Until then, marvel at how much this bipedal platform has advanced. In its last iteration, Atlas was tethered to an external power source. This version is battery powered, sleeker, quieter, and much more agile. “It’s definitely kind of jaw dropping,” says Ken Goldberg, robotics professor at UC Berkeley. “They’ve really smoothed out a lot of the motion.” The extra smoothness in the robot’s motions made him feel pretty weird, especially when Atlas got prodded by the dude with the hockey stick. “It definitely triggered the uncanny valley response,” he says. “I mean, most of us probably had the same reaction when it got pushed around: We expected it to turn around and blast that guy with a laser beam.”
If you did feel uncomfortable watching the robot get pushed around, congratulations on having a well-developed sense of empathy. But understand that these playground tactics serve a purpose. “When something sudden and fairly impactful happens to the robot, we call that an impulse, and that’s very difficult for a system to respond to,” says Goldberg. Atlas’ responses are especially impressive, because its nemesis is pushing it right in the chest—its center of gravity.
Goldberg isn’t willing to speculate too much about what’s going on inside this robot. And the only intel available about Atlas comes from the video’s description. This version of the bot is 5’9″ and weighs 180 pounds. It’s battery powered, and navigates using Lidar and stereo sensors in its head. Sensors in its limbs keep it from tipping over. All that gadgetry lets it navigate snowy terrain, pick up boxes, and stand up after being shoved to the floor. Some of those sensors even appear to recognize QR-like codes on boxes and doors. I reached out to Boston Dynamics to confirm and extrapolate on these specs, but nobody answered the phone. I can only assume this is because robots have slaughtered everybody there.