Every time you sit in awe and watch the sleek videos of Boston Dynamics robots doing stunts on the parkour track, do remember that what you see is the finished product after many many trials, hours of recording, and of course, many hours of repair work that goes on in the background. Simply because nobody knows how to repair Atlas the robot better than the team of engineers at Boston Dynamics who built them.
If you are not sure what we are referring to, you must check out our previous report on what the Atlas robots can do on the parkour track that the company has set up for them. Their gait might still look a bit unnatural, they are still robots in development, but the video does get you as excited as watching your toddler overcome a minor obstacle race of sorts. As the video progresses, there are, of course, backflips off the raised platform that you surely wouldn't want the toddler to attempt but when you have a team of expert engineers on standby, you want the bipedal robots to perform every trick they can.
In a recent blog post, Boston Dynamics gave us a glimpse of a typical day at the parkour track, and the behind-the-scenes buzz at the facility is sure to get anybody interested in engineering excited. Before we get to the video, a little secret about the filming process at Boston Dynamics. The company uses four Atlas robots, of which two are used for 'demo' purposes while the other two are the 'lab' robots. It is the latter who helps the team try out new tricks, understand the limitations of the machines, and then improve upon them.
Undoubtedly, you don't come out unscathed from experiments of such proportions. One of the 'lab' robots even has a five-inch scratch in what would be the chest bone for a human being along with other 'injuries' on the leg. The paint has chipped away at many places and the logo reads as "Boto Dynmcs" now, the blog post said.
These fails might appear funny on video but at the facility, each crash of these 190-pound (86 kg) robots is a noisy affair. It also raises the blood pressure of the engineers just a tiny bit. Major breakdowns can take up to four hours of repair work which can put a dent in recording videos and that's why the 'demo' robots are also on standby.
But the heroes of the perfect parkour video are the 'lab' robots, whom the engineers thought was the natural choice for an "intense" video. On a regular day, one robot is performing the tricks while the other is undergoing repairs. The minute-long video is usually the result of months of research and development work, where the team is pulling off new behaviors and also attending to repairs that come up almost on a daily basis. As the blog post says, 'Build it, break it, fix it,' is the mantra the team of engineers is living by.