Atlas Shows Most Impressive Parkour Skills We’ve Ever Seen

Boston Dynamics has recently released two new films of their Atlas humanoid robot doing some of the most amazing parkour we’ve ever seen. Let’s have a look!

Boston Dynamics has recently released two new films of their Atlas humanoid robot doing some of the most amazing parkour we’ve ever seen. Let’s have a look!

The Atlas team at Boston Dynamics uses parkour as a playground to experiment with novel behaviours. Our humanoid robots show their whole-body athleticism in this video, keeping their balance while engaging in a range of fast-paced, high-energy sports. We show how we push Atlas to its boundaries to find the next generation of mobility, perception, and athletic intelligence via leaps, balancing beams, and vaults.

This video contains a few new and interesting features. First, Atlas puts in some significant upper-body work by vaulting over that bar. Because it’s leaping, it’s not sustaining its whole weight with one arm, but it seems to be performing some pretty sophisticated balance and weight management with all four of its limbs at the same time. The majority of what we’ve seen from Atlas thus far has been centred on the lower body, and although the robot has utilised its arms for forward rolls and other manoeuvres, they’ve been simpler than what we’re seeing now. Boston Dynamics’ VP of Engineering, Aaron Saunders, told us earlier this year that the Atlas team would be focusing on additional upper-body things, and it seems that they’re doing so now. We anticipate Atlas will continue to develop in this area, and that it will eventually be able to do the equivalent of a pull-up, opening up a far broader range of behaviours.

According to Scott Kuindersma, the Atlas project lead at Boston Dynamics, who wrote about it in a blog post: “The second major new feature is that Atlas is now using perception considerably more extensively.”

“Atlas’ actions are now driven by perception, while they weren’t before,” Kuindersma says. “The earlier floor routines and dance films, for example, were about documenting our ability to link together a range of dynamic movements into a routine that we could repeat over and over again. The robot’s control system still needs to make many important changes on the go to maintain balance and posture objectives in that instance, but the robot was not detecting or responding to its surroundings. “

In this version of parkour, the robot adapts its repertoire of actions depending on what it observes. This eliminates the need for developers to pre-program jumping movements for any platforms and gaps the robot may face. Instead, the team develops a smaller set of template behaviours that may be tailored to the situation and performed online.

This is a significant event. Atlas was executing its routines blindly without perception—as long as the environment was kept relatively steady, the robot would be OK, but that’s clearly a significant restriction. Although what Atlas is accomplishing in this latest video is still restricted in that it relies on template behaviours defined by humans rather than real dynamic planning, it is a significant step forward.

Another point worth noting is Boston Dynamics’ perspective on humanoid robots:

“Humanoids are fascinating from a variety of angles,” Kuindersma adds. “First, they represent our concept of a future robot that can travel everywhere and do everything. They may not be the ideal design for every job, but we already know that a human form factor is capable of performing a broad range of physical activities. “

This is often used to justify humanoid robots, coupled with the notion that they must have a humanoid form factor in order to function in human settings. However, Kuindersma is correct in stating that humanoids may not be the optimal design for every given job, and that, at least in the short term, realistic commercial robots do not tend to be generalists. Even Boston Dynamic’s dog-like robot Spot, with its excellent legged movement, is best suited to a limited set of tasks—wonderful for circumstances where legs are required, but otherwise it’s complicated and costly, and wheels are frequently preferable. I believe it is critical that Boston Dynamics strive toward a go-anywhere, do-anything robot, but it is also critical to keep expectations in check, and to realise that even robots like Atlas are still a decade or more away from this generalist goal.

Meanwhile, Boston Dynamics seems to be moving away from their practice of releasing bizarre robot films with no explanation, for better or worse. Boston Dynamics has released a second behind-the-scenes film to go along with the new parkour video:

Can I just express how much I like how completely ruined the skins of these robots seem to be? That’s how you know you’re doing an excellent job.

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