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Boston Dynamics has created many viral videos throughout the years. But the latest video from the 2021 RBR50 Robotics Innovation Award winner is my favorite.
The video “Inside the lab: How does Atlas work?” details how the humanoid was trained to move through the company’s last parkour course, which it said is its most complex yet. The video shows and discusses Atlas’ failed attempts to conquer the course, as well as the many repairs, including hydraulic leaks, that are needed along the way.
But the best part of the video is showcasing the humans behind this incredible robot. We see and hear from the controls team, the software team, the hardware team, the repair technicians. As the video says, “Atlas is a culmination of more than a decade of hydraulic humanoid robotics work.” A lot of people have worked on Atlas over the years.
Atlas is a platform that allows Boston Dynamics to do R&D. The Atlas team is encouraged to push Atlas to its limits, which they do judging by the repairs you’ll see, to improve control algorithms, perception, robustness and much more.
Boston Dynamics also released a video of two Atlas robots performing parkour on the new course. As usual, the movements of the robots don’t look real. The video truly is unbelievable. The robots run, jump, and perform simultaneous, double backflips. All those maneuvers already seem ho-hum for Atlas, which speaks to the incredible talent of the people behind the scenes.
Perhaps the most impressive moment starts around the 0:35 mark. One of the Atlas robots performs a one-handed vault over the balance beam and then hops onto a raised platform. It appears to catch its balance as it lands on the platform.
Boston Dynamics published a blog to accompany both these videos, detailing how Atlas has improved over the years. One major improvement of late is that Atlas’ moves are now driven by perception. This wasn’t the case in the past. In this latest iteration of parkour, Atlas adapts its behaviors based on what it sees. This means the engineers don’t need to pre-program jumping motions for all possible platforms and gaps the robot might encounter. Instead, the team creates a smaller number of template behaviors that can be matched to the environment and executed online.
“For example, the previous floor routine and dance videos were about capturing our ability to create a variety of dynamic moves and chain them together into a routine that we could run over and over again,” said Scott Kuindersma, the Atlas team lead at Boston Dynamics. “In that case, the robot’s control system still has to make lots of critical adjustments on the fly to maintain balance and posture goals, but the robot was not sensing and reacting to its environment.”
Boston Dynamics said that during filming, Atlas performed the vault right about half of the time. On failed attempts, Atlas made it over the barrier, but lost its balance and fell backwards.
“There are a lot of pretty exciting behaviors here, and some of them are not totally reliable yet,” said Ben Stephens, the Atlas controls lead. “Every behavior here has a small chance of failure. It’s almost 90 seconds of continuous jumping, jogging, turning, vaulting, and flipping, so those probabilities add up.”
This latest parkour video showcases perhaps the most impressive movements by any robot ever.
“I find it hard to imagine a world 20 years from now where there aren’t capable mobile robots that move with grace, reliability, and work alongside humans to enrich our lives,” said Kuindersma. “But we’re still in the early days of creating that future. I hope that demonstrations like this provide a small glimpse of what’s possible.”