On paper, Boston Dynamics is in the market of making robots, but its main product is actually fascinating and vaguely unsettling videos of lifelike robots. We’ve seen the mechanical creations from Boston Dynamics walk, run, jump, and even do backflips. Now, the well-known Atlas robot can do parkour. It won’t be long until the robots only need us to build new obstacles for them to climb over.
Boston Dynamics came into being more than 25 years ago as a spin-off from MIT. It existed as an independent company until Google purchased it back in 2013. However, Google unloaded it just a few years later to Japanese technology conglomerate Softbank. Through it all, Boston Dynamics has continued making waves with jaw-dropping robotics demonstrations.
The robot demos we’ve seen from the company are usually impressive in one of two ways. They’re either eerily like us in their movements, or they’re doing things that most of us can’t do. So, a few years ago we were wowed by an Atlas robot that could pick up boxes and remain standing while a human pushed it around with a stick. Also, thanks to the robots for not rising up after that one — real jerk move by the humans. More recently, Atlas has taken to doing backflips. Now, it can do parkour.
In the video, Atlas starts off with a basic little hop over a log as it builds up speed. Then, the camera shifts to what lays ahead of the robot — am imposing series of staggered wooden platforms. What does the robot do? It keeps running (yes, it runs) and leaps from one platform to the next, using a single foot to propel itself up to the next until it lands on the top.
This might not be as immediately impressive as a backflip, but these platforms are quite tall. Each one rises up to around the robot’s hip — they’re each 40 cm above the last, but Atlas is shorter than the average person. An in-shape human could do this, but many of us couldn’t. That same could be said of doing a backflip.
According to Boston Dynamics, Atlas’ software uses all parts of the body to generate the necessary force to propel the robot up the platforms. Atlas uses computer vision and visible markers on the platforms to decide when and how to shift it weight. So, it’s not just executing a program, it’s making it up as it goes along. Let’s hope the robots don’t eventually make up a plan to destroy all humans. Standing on top of tall platforms will apparently not protect us.
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