Move over ChatGPT, this robot can do more than generate human-like written text. The Atlas robot from Boston Dynamic is stunning viewers with new capabilities that show it is becoming increasingly more human-like.
Atlas could previously do a parkour course (opens in new tab) — running, jumping and even performing synchronized dances. A few years later, the humanoid robot has continued to evolve, and it can now grab and throw using new claw-like grippers that almost act like human hands.
In a video released by Boston Dynamics (opens in new tab), Atlas is shown delivering a bag of tools to a construction worker, by grabbing the bag and managing to pave, jump and follow its way to the worker.
The video starts with a construction worker on top of a scaffolding who has forgotten his tools. That's when the star of the video, Atlas enters, picks up a wooden plank placing it between two boxes to form a bridge. The robot then grabs the bag with both his grippers, climbs up stairs, crosses the bridge and jumps up. It then manages to throw the bag up to the worker. Finally, it concludes its showmanship by pushing down a large wooden box and doing a complicated multi-axis flip.
It's jaw dropping to see a robot perform such complex tasks and even do a winning somersault in the end with such flair and accuracy. Of course, there is a huge team of engineers behind the video, but it is in equal measures impressive and scary watching a robot become a lot more human-like, seemingly overnight.
In a follow-up video (opens in new tab), Boston Dynamics explains the programming and engineering of Atlas’ software. It shows how the robot perceives and can now learn from objects in its environment. This is much more complex and layered than the parkour sequence the robot had performed earlier.
Atlas has two cameras — a color camera along with a depth sensor — that the engineers say work similarly to human eyeballs. The humanoid has computers onboard that then processes what the camera is capturing.
There is also a new program that helps the robot understand the forces of objects on its own body so, for example, it doesn’t tip over when picking up something heavy. It also helps Atlas understand the physics of holding an object and consider things like how fast it has to jump and turn holding an object and the like.
The engineers also run a simulation of Atlas’ task beforehand to see its behavior and help them understand the limits of what the robot can do in the real world.
The final somersault flip that Atlas does in the video is much more developed than its previous parkour skills. The video explains how the robot would not have been able to do this jump just a year back. Now, with changes to its controller and new program, it can manage to do an impressive multi-axis flip. Internally, the video says, they call this the “sick flip” and it is essentially an inverted 540-degree move. Talk about skills!
Atlas is not just up against ChatGPT, an AI program that has apparently even written some CEO’s recent work mails (opens in new tab), but it's also challenging Tesla’s AI-focussed Optimus humanoid. Atlas is Boston Dynamics’ research platform and it is not available for sale. Tesla has also said that it could easily be three to five years before we could see the company selling Optimus.
Humans have opposable thumbs, which is what has helped put us right at the top of the evolution pyramid. Now with robots having capable grippers, it will be interesting (and scary) to see where humanoids like Atlas are headed next.