We might soon have to cross “gymnastics” off the list of things humans can do better than robots.
Boston Dynamics released new footage of its Atlas robot Tuesday, showing the bipedal robot completing an impressive display of acrobatics. Watch as it rolls forward, does a handstand, jumps and spins with impeccable precision.
Okay, so it’s not exactly a triple back somersault, but it’s impressive work considering how much robots struggle with these kind of movements. You only have to look as far as the soccer-playing bots at Japan’s 2017 RoboCup to know that machines can struggle with human-like motions, resulting in displays that are at once captivating and hilarious.
Boston Dynamics, a SoftBank-owned company that spun out of MIT back in 1992, used a series of techniques to break through this barrier, as explained in its YouTube video description:
First, an optimization algorithm transforms high-level descriptions of each maneuver into dynamically-feasible reference motions. Then Atlas tracks the motions using a model predictive controller that smoothly blends from one maneuver to the next.
The end result is a routine developed much faster than previous attempts, offering a performance success rate in the region of 80 percent.
Atlas is billed by the company as “the world’s most dynamic humanoid robot.” It weighs 176 pounds, measures four feet 11 inches tall, and moves at a speed of 1.5 meters per second, or around three miles per hour. It uses custom motors, valves, and a hydraulic power unit to move its 28 joints and deliver jumps like the above.
The robot has been gradually learning how to move more like a human. In a paper presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in May 2018, a roboticist team from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition made a breakthrough when they discovered that by forcing Atlas to straighten its legs as it moved, it developed a gait surprisingly similar to humans.
Atlas is not the only machine on Boston Dymanics’ development roster. Spot, the cute dancing robot dog, can run for 90 minutes and even tackle the rain. It can host up to four hardware modules, and has previously been demonstrated carrying cans of drink.
The company explained to The Verge on Tuesday that the Spot bot will be available to companies with a promising pitch for the hardware platform. It may not be long before the company’s surprisingly athletic machines become more commonplace.