Technology

New Atlas robot from Google's Boston Dynamics shows off human-like qualities

Boston Dynamics — the Google-owned engineering company dedicated to creating robots that move like animals — has shown off a updated version of its human-like Atlas design with a new video.

Standing 175 centimetres tall and weighing 82 kilograms, the new Atlas has long arms, short legs, a tiny cylindrical head and is designed to operate outdoors as well as inside buildings.

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Human-like robot a step ahead

Robot company Boston Dynamics has developed a new version of its humanoid robot, Atlas, which can walk in snow, pick up objects and stand up after a fall.

The new video shows Atlas walking confidently past other members of its robotic family — including WildCat and BigDog — and heading straight out the door before wading like a terrifying idiot through a stretch of snow.

Boston Dynamics is renowned online for its quirky videos of new robots that don't seem quite ready to handle the tasks they're attempting — stumbling like babies over rough terrain or being shoved and kicked by researchers until they fall flat on their metal face.

The uneven nature of the robots definitely makes the videos palatable - without something to laugh and point at most of Boston's creations would be more than a little scary - but it's also the most impressive aspect of the machines.

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Staying upright while navigating uneven terrain and adjusting for unexpected complications is an extraordinarily involved process, requiring constant adjustment that's difficult to come by without a brain and central nervous system. Mastering this will be required for most tasks mobile robots will be used for, be it search and rescue, military applications or travelling back through time to track and assassinate humans.

What makes Boston's robots so interesting to watch is that, when faced with an obstacle or a swift kick, they tend to react in an eerily similar way to a dizzy human or quadrupedal animal.

Walking is not Atlas's only trick however. The video also shows it lifting and stacking boxes, reacting appropriately when a box is cruelly moved out of its reach at the last moment, and managing to right itself after being knocked to the ground.

Previously shown Boston designs include BigDog — seen cutting an empathetic, scuttling figure in the above GIF — and Sand Flea, a tiny car that can leap 10 metres in the air. The firm has also developed a Cheetah-like robot that can run 45 kilometres per hour, and at Christmas last year posted a video showing a troupe of prancing reindeerbots towing a sleigh.

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