Editorial Feature

Boston Dynamics' Latest Balancing Act with Atlas

Boston Dynamics, a research and development robotics company sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have recently announced the latest advancement with Atlas, a high mobility humanoid robot built to regain its balance after making contact with a lateral weight.

A hydraulically-powered robot, designed in the form of an adult human. Quite intimidating at first glance, yet one of the most sophisticated robots developed for maximum mobility and manipulation.

Atlas Update

Atlas update by Boston Dynamics. The video shows Atlas maintaining balance and control in response to being hit by a lateral weight. The robot uses inertial, kinematics and load data from its in-built sensor platform to maintain a level of balance. Video Courtesy of Boston Dynamics.

Atlas is designed to perform natural movements, including a regular gait pattern and calisthenics. Physical characteristics to Atlas include 2 arms, 2 legs, torso and a head structure.

Designed to look like an adult human, this robot moves with the use of 28 hydraulically-actuated joints, an on-board hydraulic pump and thermal mgmt. Atlas is powered by an electric supply and network tether. The head structure to Atlas is made up of a sensor platform including an LIDAR, stereo sensors, along with perception algorithms.

This robot is part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a program that focuses on the advancement of robotic technology designed to withstand challenging terrain and aims to integrate capabilities into these robots including: compatibility with external environments; being able to use tools that are normally designed for human use (e.g., vehicles); and being manipulated and monitored by humans.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials, taking place in December 2013, will see Atlas and other custom-made platforms taking part in disaster response activities. This trial will help determine the potential of these robots for deployment into real emergency settings where this technology faces tasks such as walking over harsh, uneven terrain and controlling ground rescue vehicles.

The latest advancement to Atlas is highly promising for supporting human defense operations. The WildCat Robot - also a part of Boston Dynamics’ research program - is designed to run on flat land without the need for a tether. This development could one day see this Cheetah-inspired quadruped robot being deployed in search and rescue operations.

Introducing WildCat

Both Atlas and WildCat are a clear demonstration of how robotic technology is coming along in leaps and bounds. The challenges associated with the development of ground automated machinery will involve looking at how cost effective it is to use this technology in real world emergency rescue operations, and how well this system works alongside trained and untrained humans in disaster-response zones.

Sources and Further Reading


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