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The Next Generation of ATLAS Robot is Frighteningly Competent

Atlas, a Titan from ancient Greek mythology, was tasked by Zeus to hold up the sky above Earth for eternity. Atlas, the bipedal robot from Massachusetts, is starting out a bit smaller, with a couple of ten-pound boxes in a warehouse. But it’s the way Atlas the robot picking up those boxes that’s so mind blowing.

The robot you see walking, opening doors, and picking up boxes in the above video, is the latest iteration in the Atlas line of robots from the Alphabet-owned robotics company, Boston Dynamics. Alphabet is not only the parent company of Boston Dynamics, but also Nest, Verily, and that little ol’ search engine, Google—as well as all of Google’s offshoots.

This latest Atlas model is significantly smaller than the previous generation, the former stands at 5’9″ and weighs 180 pounds, while the latter was 6’2″ and 345 pounds. This updated Atlas, again unlike his older, bigger brother, also doesn’t need tethers for support or power, as is evidenced by all of that awkward yet efficient frolicking in the snow.

Atlas-Robot-Family-Pic-02222016Left to right: Previous gen. Atlas, new gen. Atlas, BigDog, WildCat, AlphaDog

In terms of tech, Atlas sports all kinds of state-of-the-art systems, including LIDAR (an amalgam of “light” and “radar”), which is a laser surveying technology popular among self-driving vehicles. Atlas also uses hydraulics for movement, as it seems that electric motors still can’t quite get the job done yet.

Atlas is obviously notable for a whole bunch of reasons. It’s opening up doors. It looks like it’s able to track a specific object and then position the object for pick up, even when that object, and itself, keeps moving. It can get knocked on its face and then jump back to its feet. It even seems to elicit emotions, as if it were alive. (Try not to feel at least a bit awful watching that guy with the hockey stick jab Atlas in the chest, it’s impossible.)

Atlas-Pushed-02222016Being a dick to robots is all a part of the job.

In terms of future iterations of Atlas, it’s hard to say what Boston Dynamics expects and on what time scale; none of that is really laid out on its website. But considering it’s owned by Alphabet, who also owns Google DeepMind—the company that’s hard at work on “solving intelligence”—it seems like the sky’s the limit for Atlas. That’s a good thing, because somebody’s going to have to hold it up.

What do you think about Boston Dynamics and its Atlas robot? Does it feel a bit like a Skynet situation, or could this perhaps be the beginning of a time when humans simply won’t need to do any physical labor anymore? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!

HT: IEEE Spectrum

Images: Boston Dynamics

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