The impressive — and perhaps mildly alarming — footage of Atlas staggering around like the less-coordinated cousin of a Transformers character has been making the rounds online after it was shown at the Fab Lab 11 conference and symposium in Cambridge, Mass., earlier this month.
It was the first time the company had shared video of one of its humanoid robots on an outdoor excursion. (Though its quadrupeds have been frequently filmed running in the wild.)
But Atlas wasn’t simply gripped by a Thoreauvian yen to experience nature. According to Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert, the hike was an opportunity to test the robot’s balance and ability to respond to an unpredictable environment.
“Out in the world is just a totally different challenge than in the lab,” he said at the conference.
According to the Boston Globe, much of the company’s research is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is trying to develop robots that can perform tasks in military and disaster-related situations that would be unsafe for humans. And the company originally began as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, according to its Web site.
Atlas still isn’t quite ready to venture out on its own — in the video shown at Fab 11, the robot remained tethered to a power source as it tramped around the woods.
“I’m not saying it can do everything you can do,” Raibert said, “but you can imagine if we keep pushing we’ll get there.”
It’s not clear whether anyone has informed Atlas that the streets of America are not necessarily safe for wandering robots — look at the violence inflicted on the friendly hitchhiking Hitchbot in Philadelphia earlier this month.
Then again, Hitchbot was Canadian. And it had pool noodles for arms. And it looked like a character from a PBS kids show.
On second thought, Atlas should be fine.