With the advent of artificial intelligence programs such as ChatGPT and the integration of robots into daily life, we are approaching a new age of technological advancement that is revolutionizing several industries which were once heavily dependent on humans. Boston Dynamics, an American engineering and robotics company, has created a robot called Atlas that pushes the limits of robotics in a way that has never been done before.
The Atlas robot has human-like agility, performing a variety of movements at different speeds. At a height of 4 feet 11 inches, it weighs 196 lbs and is able to move at a speed of 8.2 feet per second. Additionally, its 3D-printed parts provide the ultimate strength-to-weight ratio, which gives Atlas the ability to perform leaps and somersaults. Atlas even uses parkour — not for show, but to study and solve complex problems, such as connections between perceptions and control, that allow it to adapt to different obstacles and surroundings instantaneously.
With the help of depth sensors, Atlas can detect its surroundings by generating point clouds (large collections of range measurements) at 15 frames per second. This data is then put into a mapping system that builds models of the objects detected by the camera.
Using trajectory optimization, engineers are able to create a library of template motions that are then combined into Atlas’ complex routines. The robot uses its real-time perception to choose a behavior that matches its targets. Perception algorithms convert the data from sensors into something that can be used to identify obstacles (i.e. jumping over a gap between platforms).
Additionally, this humanoid robot has a model-predictive controller (MPC), which is able to compute the optimal motions over time and ensure smooth transitions between movements. The controller also adjusts details such as force, posture, and behavior timing in order to adapt to real-time factors (i.e. foot slips). This makes it easier to program Atlas as engineers don’t need to account for every possible scenario since the MPC can deviate significantly from template motions (i.e. jumping from platforms of different heights).
Scott Kuindersma, the team lead on Atlas, believes that the robot could eventually do well in “spaces that were traditionally designed for humans to do work in” such as manufacturing, construction, and healthcare.
Although many might be alarmed at the site of an Atlas in their doctor’s office or place of work, the robot should not be feared. These humanoid robots are working to make several industries more efficient and safe by taking on jobs that have been putting human lives at risk for decades. While only time will tell the true consequences of widespread use of the Atlas, it’s important that we approach the topic of robotics with an open mind. After all, an Atlas robot may be the one saving your life in a car crash when the jaws of life cannot. Ultimately, our attitude towards robots and technology such as AI will determine the roles they play in our lives.