Boston Dynamics' Atlas can now pick and toss items, just like humans

With a stylized celebration to celebrate at the end.
Ameya Paleja
Atlas by Boston Dynamics
Atlas by Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics 

Boston Dynamics has done it once again. After demonstrating the extreme capabilities of its bipedal robot, Atlas, flawlessly executing parkour tricks, the company has now released a video where you will fall in love with the robot for doing what one hates the most—climbing down from a high platform or ladder to get the tool you need.

Needless to say, the video is shot inside Boston Dynamics' controlled facility and results from hours of perspiration and many broken robotic appendages, something we have covered before.

In this vignette, a human is shown working on a high platform and realizes that he has forgotten his tool bag, which happens very often. In a world where a robot like Atlas is indeed at our beck and call, one can ask him to hand over the toolbag, which he does effortlessly.

What's so special about grabbing a bag?

Grabbing a bag shouldn't be a big deal for a robot that can walk up straight on its own or even run a parkour course. However, it still is. Even before grabbing the bag, the robot also picks up a plank to build a bridge to get onto the high platform, and both these actions require it to use its pincher-styled hand grippers, which is the hero of the entire demonstration.

It is not just about the robot being able to grasp two different types of objects using the same grasp but also factoring in what happens when it is carrying the object with him. After picking up the bag, the robot turns and gets into a short sprint to reach the platform, and this is where it needs to account for the laws of physics. As it jogs to the platform, Atlas needs to ensure that the extra cargo it is not carrying does not tip him over since his momentum has now changed.

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Boston Dynamics has also released another video that details what's happening behind the scenes.

Atlas versus Optimus

Even as the world has enjoyed Atlas' antics over the years, the space of bipedal autonomous robots is now heating up with the entry of Tesla's Optimus. According to Elon Musk, the team made massive progress in just six months, and apart from walking and dancing, it can also do a fair amount of heavy lifting (up to 1,000 pounds) for you.

More importantly, Tesla is looking to develop the Optimus at a large scale, making it inexpensive enough for it to be owned by an average household. Even though Atlas may not be designed for household use, Boston Dynamics will surely see it eating into application areas of Atlas as well. Made using parts that can be mass-produced, Optimus is expected to cost less than US$20,000, about 75 percent lesser than what competitor robots cost.

It is unlikely that we will ever see Atlas and Optimus in a Robot-Wars setting or even a dance competition. Still, slowly and surely, these robots will try and mimic other human capabilities too. That future does not seem very far away.

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