If you had to escape a robot that could easily outrun you in an open field, what would you do? Given the technology of today, heading to rougher terrain would be a good decision. But robotics company Boston Dynamics is making sure that soon, robots will be able to go anywhere you can go. ANYWHERE.
Above, the founder of Boston Dynamics Marc Raibert speaks at the FAB 11 Conference at MIT, showing off brand new footage of the company’s ATLAS robot traversing wooded areas disturbingly well.
The key, as Raibert says, is to model the walking robots after how animals and people move, “where you move quickly in order to keep yourself stabilized if you’re disturbed.” The GIF above shows just how effective that dynamic stabilization can be, as does the testing that involves simply hurling heavy objects at a balancing robot.
“We’re interested in getting this robot out into the world,” says Raibert. That’s the real challenge — labs are so controlled that the intricacies of the outside environment are hard to model for. So how do you model it? Send the robot outside. Once it can walk the earth with ease, the next step would be removing the need for outside power. “We’re working on a version that doesn’t have [the power tether].” Oh. Well there you go.
All the faux fear mongering aside, the technology on display here is tremendously impressive. You and I take for granted the musculature in our legs and body that allows us to sprint through the forest — Boston Dynamics has to replicate this evolutionarily-tuned ingenuity from the ground-up (though details about the specific designs are kept close to the chest). And it looks like they are doing a pretty good job of it.
Oh, and we’re going to just act like we didn’t see the four-legged robot with the door-opener for a face for now.