Aug 18, 2015 | By Alec

While we’ve seen plenty examples of basic 3D printed robots already, virtually all makers have greatly struggled with implementing an autonomous walking ability – especially where rough terrain is involved. But one subsidiary of Google is showing the rest of us how it’s done. Boston Dynamics, purchased by Google in 2013, has been working on a 1.88 meter tall bipedal, partially 3D printed, rescue robot for a while now, which has just completed a very successful test run out in New England’s nature.

Boston Dynamics is a Massachusetts-based company that specializes in developing robots. Among others, they are also responsible for the four-legged robotic dog Spot that has been widely circulating on the web. Featuring a hand-like manipulator on its face, this robot is even capable of opening doors and executing other complex tasks. While Spot also featured in the presentation given by company founder Marc Raibert at MIT’s FAB 11 Conference, the partially 3D printed Atlas was definitely the most interesting robot they are working on.

The Atlas itself has been inspired by the nuclear disaster that occurred in 2011 at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in 2011, during which autonomous robots capable of traversing complex, uneven or even destroyed terrains would have been really useful. This lead to the development of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DARPA standing for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), designed to develop humanoid robots capable of surviving disaster scenarios. The Atlas, in turn, has been partially inspired by some of the DARPA designs and also sponsored by that agency.

While the Atlas robot has gone through a few iterations over the past few years, the latest model is lighter than ever before at 156 kilograms and among others features improved actuators to help it get up should it fall over. It also features improved arms and even wrists that rotate by themselves to allow doorknobs to be easily opened. While still used with a power tether, it can also function without one, while featuring a variable-pressure pump to conserve energy. And to show what it is now capable of, the Google company sent the Atlas out into the woods for some real environment action. You can see the successful results in the clip below.

Raibert also said that he was very pleased with the progress and expects the Atlas to match the walking capabilities of the rest of us very quickly. ‘We're making pretty good progress so it has mobility that's sort of within shooting range of yours,’ he said. ‘We’re interested in getting this robot out into the world. Out in the world is a totally different challenge than [being] in the lab — you can’t predict what it’s going to be like. All kinds of stuff happens out there, and we’re making pretty good progress on making it so that it has mobility that’s sort of within shooting range of yours. I’m not saying it can do all the things you can do, but you can imagine that if we keep pushing, we’ll get there.’

In part, the successes have been realized through extensive experimentation with lightweight 3D printed parts. Raibert revealed that in the current state of the robot, the valves for the hydraulic fluids, as well as the shells and lattice structures on the Atlas’s legs have been improved by 3D printing them. While it isn’t known if the final edition will feature 3D printed parts, the technology is thus obviously playing a major role in development.

While the robot obviously hasn’t been completed just yet, Reibert is hopeful that a lot more will be known and possible by the end of the year. ‘I can’t show you the robot yet, but we’re pursuing this pretty aggressively,’ he says. ‘and I think by the end of the year, you’ll see robots from us that use an approach of fabrication that’s more like that.’ 


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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