Boston Dynamics Robot Is Done Being Pushed Around, Learns to do a Backflip
Boston Dynamics has been thrilling and terrifying us for years with its eerily lifelike robots. Perhaps the most fascinating is the Atlas humanoid robot, which was revamped in 2016 with impressive walking and balancing skills. As wild as it is to see a robot moving in such a realistic way, Atlas hasn’t done anything a small child couldn’t do… until now. In Boston Dynamics’ latest demo, Atlas is showing off its incredible agility by pulling off a backflip.
Atlas (originally the Agile Anthropomorphic Robot) is a project supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It’s 5 feet 9 inches tall (175 cm) and weighs in at 180 pounds (82 kg). This version of the robot is more compact than the original from 2013, which was 6 feet tall and weighed almost twice as much. Making Atlas the size and shape of a human is an important aspect of the project. While something with four legs or tank treads could be faster and more stable, our world is based on the human body shape. Stairs, doors, vehicles, and everything else is designed for people. A robot shaped like a person can more easily integrate with the world.
In the 2016 demo video, a Boston Dynamics engineer cruelly pushed and harassed Atlas. It was all in the name of showing off how well the robot could maintain balance in the face of changing conditions. In the latest video, Atlas has improved those skills to become quite the ninja. First, it demonstrates how well it can jump by vaulting up and over some small blocks. Its dismount includes a full 180-degree spin move. Impressive, but a human child could do that. The backflip? Not so much.
To pull off the backflip, Atlas first jumps up on top of a sizable platform. That by itself is an impressive display of balance that some humans couldn’t manage. Then, it jumps straight up and spins 180-degrees. Just when you think, “No, it can’t possibly…” Atlas leaps up and does a full backflip. It even sticks the landing and raises its arms in triumph. There are two more backflips at the end of the video. The first of these is actually more impressive in some ways. Atlas almost falls after it lands, but it manages to regain its balance. The other bonus backflip doesn’t go as well—Atlas falls over after it lands too far forward.
As usual, Boston Dynamics is coy with details. The title of the video, “What’s new, Atlas?” seems to imply the robot has gotten upgrades to make these acrobatic feats possible. Hopefully, we get some more information eventually, because knowledge will be power when the robot apocalypse begins.