Feb. 26, 2016 | By Alec

Remember Boston Dynamics’ impressive 1.88 meter tall Atlas humanoid robot? Back in August 2015, this promising and partially 3D printed robot showed us a glimpse of robotic future by successfully walking through the woods. The Google subsidiary (purchased in 2013) has since been working on an updated version, and has just revealed a new Atlas that could be coming for our jobs soon. Now walking untethered, the clip shows the shorter, lighter (thanks to 3D printed legs) Atlas walking through snow covered woods, lifting and moving boxes around and even standing up after being pushed over. The robotic revolution is coming.

Boston Dynamics, of course, is an MIT spinoff that has been focusing on robotics since 1992.The Atlas itself was inspired by the Japanese nuclear disaster in 2011, when autonomous robots capable of traversing destroyed terrain would’ve been really useful. Through the DARPA Robotics Challenge, this eventually grew into the Atlas – which has steadily been improving over the last year. But few people probably expected such a huge improvement, which you can see in Boston Dynamics’ clip below. The new Atlas is arguably the most advanced humanoid robot in existence.

As Boston Dynamics’ founder Marc Raibert explained, the team actually primarily focused on decreasing its weight – which it achieved through 3D printing. “The engineering team did a huge amount of work to make ATLAS lighter and more compact. One thing we did was use 3D printing to create the legs, so the actuators and hydraulic lines are embedded in the structure, rather than made out of separate components,” he says. “We also developed custom servo-valves that are significantly smaller and lighter (and work better) than the aerospace versions we had been using.” Raibert has previously stated that 3D printing will be a key part of their next-gen robotic manufacturing plans.

Below: the previous version of the Atlas.

Of course one of the goals is to make the Atlas as humanoid as possible, and they’ve certainly made a huge leap forward in that respect. Completely wireless, it is now 5 feet and 9 inches tall and weighs about 180 pounds – much more realistic that the six foot, 330 pound predecessor. It has a head, as you can see, but that is actually a spinning LIDAR sensor and several stereo sensors to help it track objects in real time. The robot is electrically powered and, like all of its predecessors, has hydraulic actuators.

But of course it’s movement ability is the most impressive feature. Slipping and stumbling is still an issue, Raibert says, but they have focused on improving the robot’s ability to find its balance again. Through their improved algorithms, they have achieved remarkable successes in this respect. “[The team are also] taking advantage of the improved strength-to-weight ratio that this robot has,” he added, “as well as other performance improvements.”

The real question is, however, what can it do without being steered? In the clip below, Atlas is being steered via radio, while the robot is adjusting its own movement patterns through its sensors. Balancing is also done autonomously. When moving the boxes, the robot reportedly started stacking boxes autonomously after being ordered to do so. It’s a very impressive machine that really pushes robotics development further.

So what can be expected from Boston Dynamics in the future? While Raibert declined to give any further details, he did suggest that their vision has always stayed the same. “Our long-term goal is to make robots that have mobility, dexterity, perception and intelligence comparable to humans and animals, or perhaps exceeding them; this robot is a step along the way,” he said. While it will likely take some years before this robot starts to become a commercial reality, I would be very worried if my job consisted of moving boxes around.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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