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Boston Dynamics Says Farewell to Its Humanoid Atlas Robotic—Then Brings It Again Absolutely Electrical


Yesterday, Boston Dynamics introduced it was retiring its hydraulic Atlas robotic. Atlas has lengthy been the usual bearer of superior humanoid robots. Over time, the corporate was often called a lot for its analysis robots because it was for slick viral movies of them figuring out in navy fatigues, forming dance mobs, and doing parkour. Fittingly, the corporate put collectively a send-off video of Atlas’s biggest hits and blunders.

However there have been clues this wasn’t actually the top, not least of which was the precise inclusion of the phrase “hydraulic” and the final line of the video, “‘Til we meet once more, Atlas.” It wasn’t an extended hiatus. At the moment, the corporate launched hydraulic Atlas’s successor—electrical Atlas.

The brand new Atlas is notable for a number of causes. First, and most clearly, Boston Dynamics has lastly performed away with hydraulic actuators in favor of electrical motors. To be clear, Atlas has lengthy had an onboard battery pack—however now it’s absolutely electrical. The benefits of going electrical embody much less price, noise, weight, and complexity. It additionally permits for a extra polished design. From the corporate’s personal Spot robotic to a number of different humanoid robots, absolutely electrical fashions are the norm nowadays. So, it’s about time Atlas made the swap.

With out a mess of hydraulic hoses to deal with, the brand new Atlas can now additionally contort itself in new methods. As you’ll be aware within the launch video, the robotic rises to its toes—an important ability for a strolling robotic—in a really, let’s say, particular manner. It folds its legs up alongside its torso and impossibly, for a human a minimum of, pivots up by way of its waist (no arms). As soon as standing Atlas swivels its head 180 levels, then does the identical factor at every hip joint and the waist. It takes just a few watches to actually respect all of the weirdness there.

The takeaway is that whereas Atlas seems to be like us, it’s able to actions we aren’t and subsequently has extra flexibility in the way it completes future duties.

This theme of same-but-different is clear in its head too. As a substitute of choosing a human-like head that dangers slipping into the uncanny valley, the crew selected a featureless (for now) lighted circle. In an interview with IEEE Spectrum, Boston Dynamics CEO, Robert Playter, stated the human-like designs they tried appeared “slightly bit threatening or dystopian.”

“We’re attempting to challenge one thing else: a pleasant place to look to realize some understanding concerning the intent of the robotic,” he stated. “The design borrows from some pleasant shapes that we’d seen up to now. For instance, there’s the outdated Pixar lamp that everyone fell in love with many years in the past, and that knowledgeable a few of the design for us.”

Whereas most of those upgrades are enhancements, there may be one space the place it’s not completely clear how effectively the brand new kind will truthful: power and energy.

Hydraulics are recognized to offer each, and Atlas pushed its hydraulics to their limits carrying heavy objects, executing backflips, and doing 180-degree, in-air twists. Based on the press launch and Playter’s interviews, little has been misplaced on this class. The truth is, they are saying, electrical Atlas is stronger than hydraulic Atlas. Nonetheless, as with all issues robotics, the last word proof of how succesful it’s will possible be in video kind, which we’ll eagerly await.

Regardless of massive design updates, the corporate’s messaging is probably extra notable. Atlas was once a analysis robotic. Now, the corporate intends to promote them commercially.

This isn’t terribly shocking. There are actually a lot of corporations competing within the humanoid robots house, together with Agility, 1X, Tesla, Apptronik, and Determine—which simply raised $675 million at a $2.6 billion valuation. A number of are making speedy progress, with a heavy deal with AI, and have kicked off real-world pilots.

The place does Boston Dynamics slot in? With Atlas, the corporate has been the clear chief for years. So, it’s not ranging from the bottom ground. Additionally, due to its Spot and Stretch robots, the corporate already has expertise commercializing and promoting superior robots, from figuring out product-market match to coping with logistics and servicing. However AI was, till lately, much less of a spotlight. Now, they’re folding reinforcement studying into Spot, have begun experimenting with generative AI too, and promise extra is coming.

Hyundai acquired Boston Dynamics for $1.1 billion in 2021. This may occasionally show advantageous, as they’ve entry to a world-class manufacturing firm together with its assets and experience producing and promoting machines at scale. It’s additionally a chance to pilot Atlas in real-world conditions and ideal it for future prospects. Plans are already in movement to place Atlas to work at Hyundai subsequent 12 months.

Nonetheless, it’s price noting that, though humanoid robots are attracting consideration, getting massive time funding, and being tried out in industrial contexts, there’s possible a methods to go earlier than they attain the form of generality some corporations are touting. Playter says Boston Dynamics goes for multi-purpose, however nonetheless area of interest, robots within the close to time period.

“It undoubtedly must be a multi-use case robotic. I consider that as a result of I don’t suppose there’s very many examples the place a single repetitive job goes to warrant these advanced robots,” he stated. “I additionally suppose, although, that the sensible matter is that you simply’re going to need to deal with a category of use circumstances, and actually making them helpful for the top buyer.”

Humanoid robots that tidy your home and do the dishes might not be imminent, however the subject is sizzling, and AI is bringing a level of generality not potential a 12 months in the past. Now that Boston Dynamics has thrown its identify within the hat, issues will solely get extra fascinating from right here. We’ll be holding an in depth eye on YouTube to see what new methods Atlas has up its sleeve.

Picture Credit score: Boston Dynamics

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