Boston Dynamics’ Atlas has now mastered parkour

Boston Dynamics has dropped a new video, this time revealing the Atlas robot’s newfound ability to clear obstacles and jump like a parkour expert. The combination of real-time computer vision and control software, that balances legs, arms and torso, affirms Atlas as one of the most physically impressive robots ever developed.

It’s mind-blowing to consider it was only five years ago that we were introduced to the first completed iteration of the Atlas robot. Back then we were wowed by the sight of a humanoid robot that could independently walk around, albeit still tethered to a separate power source and with the gait of a stumbling drunk.

In 2015 the tether was removed and Atlas was allowed to roam free. Since then the robot’s progress has been truly remarkable, with Boston Dynamics periodically sharing videos as a new skill was acquired. First, Atlas mastered the art of balancing, and by the end of 2017 we were treated to some impressive, and frightening, footage of the bot learning how to complete a backflip.

The big 2018 innovations for Atlas seem to have been mostly concerned with the robot learning how to navigate tricky terrain in real-time. Earlier this year we saw a video showing the robot jogging through the woods, easily moving across uneven outdoor landscapes. And now, we see Atlas smoothly leaping up steps and jumping over logs.

As with many of these Boston Dynamics reveals, the company is short on technical details, so it’s not clear exactly how programmed the maneuver actually is. In a short note accompanying the video the company states, “Atlas uses computer vision to locate itself with respect to visible markers on the approach to hit the terrain accurately.”

Where all this will lead is still unknown at this stage. Despite Boston Dynamics being sold by Google’s parent company Alphabet to Japanese company SoftBank for an undisclosed sum in 2017, there has been no indication as to what direction the robot’s development is heading. No commercial or private outcome has ever been disclosed, so at this point it seems the engineers are still simply working on making the most mobile humanoid robot they can. And at the rate they are progressing it’s difficult (and scary) to imagine what this robot will be capable of in another five years time.

By: Rich Haridy