Business Technology

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Google's six-foot robot takes first steps into the real world

The six-foot-two Atlas robot makes tentative steps through a forest
The six-foot-two Atlas robot makes tentative steps through a forest

James Titcomb

Boston Dynamics, the robotics company owned by Google, has unveiled the first footage of its humanoid robot taking steps in the wild.

Marc Raibert, the founder of Boston Dynamics, unveiled the footage at a conference in Massachusetts earlier this month.

It shows the six-foot-two Atlas robot making tentative steps through a forest before breaking into a fairly pacy run, as well as it being tested in lab conditions.

The 300-pound Atlas robot uses stereo cameras and a laser rangefinder to perceive its surroundings. Atlas has 28 joints allowing it to mimic a range of human actions.

Its ability to walk has already been tested in the lab, but the unpredictable real world creates new challenges. "Out in the world is a totally different challenge to the lab, you can't predict what it's going to be like," Raibert said.

Boston Dynamics hopes to remove the power tether attached to Atlas, giving it more independence.

The company, which was bought by Google in 2013, is attempting to recreate the movement patterns of animals and humans in its own creations.

When it is at risk of falling over, Atlas makes rapid steps in order to stabilise itself, and will also balance on one foot when hit from the side.

Last year, Boston Dynamics demonstrated how Atlas mimicked the "crane kick" from the Karate Kid.

Atlas is ultimately expected to be used in search and rescue operations, particularly in conditions that would be dangerous to humans. As well as humanoids, it has a range of animal-like robots.

Boston Dynamics is part of Google X, one of the divisions that will be separated from Google's core business as part of its Alphabet restructuring.

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