Boston Dynamics' Atlas Robot Has a Future on the Riot Squad

When Alphabet, Inc. agreed to sell robotics company Boston Dynamics to Japan-based SoftBank earlier this year, executives at the company that owns Google knew what they were giving up: Robots with incredible motor skills that are truly impressive, but also not exactly money-makers. What would these robots actually do other than feed a tech news cycle? They couldn’t tell you the weather, they couldn’t order delivery, and couldn’t clean your apartment. White elephants of the tech world, Boston Dynamics seems bent on proving its doubters wrong.

Showing up the haters in business and consumer tech hasn’t been easy, but that hasn’t stopped the company from recently sharing new video footage of its robot dog (Spot) and its humanoid bot (Atlas). The company on Thursday afternoon released another slightly terrifying video of Atlas, casually engaging in parkour inside its warehouse. After it does a backflip onto a padded platform, it raises its hands in seeming triumph.

After another backflip, it takes a few steps to regain its balance, showing its balancing ability. But the most terrifying part is when Atlas performs an attack-style lunge. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine a new revenue stream for Boston Dynamics robots: Riot cops.

Also this week, Boston Dynamics released a video showing an updated, sleeker, yellow-and-black version of Spot, it’s robo-dog:

The trepidation you feel when you witness to cold, unrelenting power of a Boston Dynamics robot in action isn’t lost on the people who started the company. Earlier this year, company founder Mark Raibert showed off the skills of Handle, another robot that’s like Atlas — but with wheels instead of legs. With welcome self-awareness, he called one robot “nightmare-inducing.”

“This is the debut presentation of what I think will be a nightmare-inducing robot if you’re anything like me,” Raibert said in January during the Abundance360 conference in Los Angeles. “This is an experiment in combining wheels with legs, with a very dynamic system that is balancing inside itself all the time, and has a lot of knowledge of how to throw its weight around, which it uses to help stabilize itself.”

Here’s Handle doing just that:

There’s no doubt more to come from Boston Dynamics, and Raibert is determined the robots will be used to help humanity, not overpower it.

“We share SoftBank’s belief that advances in technology should be for the benefit of humanity,” Raibert said after SoftBank bought his company this year. “We look forward to working with SoftBank in our mission to push the boundaries of what advanced robots can do and to create useful applications in a smarter and more connected world.”

And pushing the boundaries of what robotics can do, in November 2017, anyway, means perfectly executed backflips.

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