Techcrunch.com: Boston dynamics atlas humanoid robot goes electric

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Atlas, a humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics, goes electric

Atlas is lying unconscious on top of gym mats that interlock. The sound of an electric motor whirling serves as the only soundtrack. It’s not quite silent, but when compared to older hydraulic jerks, it’s insignificant.

The robot’s knees bend as the camera moves around its back. The movement begins organically and then suddenly takes a surreal, Sam Raimi-esque turn. The robot, which appeared to be lying on its back, has effectively shifted places with this clever amount of leg rotation.

Atlas faces the camera when it stands at its maximum height. The head now rotates 180 degrees, and then the torso does the same. It remains motionless for a little while, giving the camera its first good look at its head, which is a ring of light encircling a perfectly round screen. Once more, as Atlas moves away from the camera and out of frame, the torso follows the head’s 180-degree turn.

Just one day after Boston Dynamics atlas retired the hydraulic version of its Atlas humanoid robot, Atlas has now gone electric, following in the footsteps of Bob Dylan.

Though noticeably more fluid than many of the new commercial humanoids we’ve been introduced to over the previous few years, the pace is quick, and the steps are still a little choppy. The walk actually reminds me of the bold self-assurance of Spot, the relative of Atlas, whose evolutionary branch split off from the humanoid a few generations back.

The New Atlas

The robot has changed to the point where it is hardly recognizable. The legs bowed, the top-heavy body, and the plated armour is gone. There are no cables visible anywhere on the sleek new mechanical skeleton. The business has chosen a nicer, gentler design than both the original Atlas and more modern robots like the Figure 01 and Tesla Optimus, fending off reactionary cries of robopocalypse for decades.

The new robots design is more in line with that of Apollo from Apptronik and Digit from Agility. The design of the robot with the traffic light’s head is more whimsical and gentler. According to the video, this is the “All New Atlas.” Boston Dynamics broke with industry convention by retaining the research name for a gadget it will be pursuing for commercialization. SpotMini changed to Spot. Stretch evolved from Handle. But for the time being, Atlas remains Atlas.

“When we really get ready to build and deliver in quantity, we might revisit this,” TechCrunch is told by Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics. “But I believe it’s worthwhile to keep the branding for the time being.”

The project is still in its early phases, as the executive’s comment reveals. According to Boston Dynamics’ current plan, full manufacturing of the electric Atlas will start a few years after pilot testing at Hyundai facilities early next year.

“Starting next year, we will be conducting on-site experiments with Hyundai,” states Playter. “We already have Hyundai equipment here. This project has been a long-term project for us. You need much more than just fancy technology to make this work. In order to justify investing in a robot, you truly need to comprehend that use case and have enough productivity.

Making a 180-degree turn

The robot’s movements are the most remarkable aspect of the 40-second “All New Atlas” teaser. They serve as a reminder that creating a robot that resembles a human being need not involve going all out. Years ago, I was informed by an investor that despite billions of years of evolution, humans are not flawless robots. If we are going to construct machines in our likenesses, why not construct ones that are capable of feats that we are not?

Playter states, “At most joints, we built a set of custom, high-powered, and very flexible actuators.” “What a vast range of motion that is. That genuinely condenses the strength of a professional athlete into this small container, which we have employed throughout the robot.

While watching the video, bear in mind that Boston Dynamics has established itself through decades of viral video content. More recent additions to the canon are more likely to be industrial setting-relevant dance routines than anything truly useful. Because of this, it’s challenging to distinguish between what the corporation considers to be genuine functionality and what is only some show-off.

For example, beginning in the prone position not only gives you a chance to show off that awesome, reverse crab leg technique, but it’s also really useful. As demonstrated in the hydraulic Atlas farewell video by Boston Dynamics, both falling and getting back up are just parts of the job. In actuality, when the majority of today’s industrial robots malfunction, human assistance is needed. On the other side, a robot that can just pick itself up and go back to work is a productivity booster.

The system’s potential for productivity is further enhanced by its capacity to operate on a dime. It makes me think of Agility’s Digit demonstrations, in which a robot goes to a shelf, turns around, walks to the conveyer belt, spins around, and comes back. Agility is notably the only firm of its kind to demo systems at this scale. When you multiply that task hundreds or even thousands of times per day, you start to realize how important it is to save valuable seconds.

The player says, “It’s going to be capable of a set of motions that people aren’t.” “That will have a lot of useful applications.”

It is imperative to significantly reduce the robot’s turn radius when operating in confined locations. Recall that these devices are intended to be brownfield solutions, meaning they can be integrated into current locations and workflows. Enhanced mobility may ultimately make the difference between being able to operate in a given environment and needing to redesign the arrangement.

Hands and Head

The hands aren’t entirely new for the video; they were seen on the hydraulic model before. They also signify the company’s choice not to fully follow human design as a guiding principle, though. Here, the distinction is as straightforward as choosing to use three end effectors rather than four.

A hand may have so much intricacy, claims Playter. “Reliability and robustness are essential when working with actuators in harsh environments. To try to control their complexity, we therefore created these with fewer than five fingers. We are still investigating those generations. We desire cooperative grasping that can adjust to a range of forms and has extensive sensing built in to let you know when you’re in contact.

On the inside, the head might be the most controversial element of the design. Parts of the enormous circular display resemble cosmetics mirrors.

According to Playter, “It was one of the design elements we fretted over quite a bit.” “Everyone else was shaped like a humanoid. I desired for it to be distinct. It should be cordial and transparent. It offers a display colour scheme. Naturally, there are sensors hidden away, but the form is also meant to convey a certain level of warmth. For future interactions with these objects, that will be crucial.

A Christmas Atlas 

In the ten years after the hydraulic Atlas was first introduced, the landscape has seen significant alteration. Electric Atlas has a number of competitors in the shape of humanoid robots from companies such as Figure, Apptronik, Tesla, and 1X.

“Clearly, there has been a significant surge in demand for us. Three things, in my opinion, have spurred that influx. Boston Dynamics was purchased [by Hyundai] for almost $1 billion. Everyone sort of woke awake to the realization that there was a way out. The announcement from Tesla that they are interested in manufacturing sort of confirmed what we have been doing for a while. All of this is then made possible by the development of AI as a tool to assist in dealing with generality. We have taken our time announcing because we wanted to conduct a sufficient study to know that we can resolve manipulation issues and have faith in a new generation of machines.

Despite Boston Dynamics’ significant advantage in the field of humanoids, Playter reports that the business completed the first assembly of the new robot around Christmas 2023. It was solving a lot of the trickier simulation problems prior to then.

It appears that the business is now prepared to start showcasing the robot’s capabilities this week, or at least the initial phases of what it has in store for the system.

Overall intelligence

You can say with certainty that Elon Musk is a man of great promise. When Optimus was first shown to the public and the Tesla ‘bot looked like a human wearing spandex, the executive talked of a system that could do everything. After working in the factory all day, your Optimus may go food shopping and prepare your dinner. Isn’t that the dream?

Of course, the real story is one of incremental change. Even though robotics companies are already talking about “general-purpose humanoids,” current systems are only capable of handling one duty at a time. That usually entails transporting goods from point A to point B. A more universal intellect, however, will be needed to fully utilize the form factor.

The app store concept seems to offer the most obvious way forward in that regard. Ultimately, Expanding Spot’s feature set has been greatly aided by providing developer access. But according to Playter, Boston Dynamics won’t use that strategy with Atlas.

“We intend to focus on developing an application internally rather than creating a platform,” he declares. Our experience has shown that the best approach to move quickly is for us to concentrate on an application and fix problems ourselves rather than assuming that someone else will do it for us. AI is, in my opinion, a crucial component in this. AI approaches will be used to support and strengthen the generality of tasks.

The Spot reinforcement learning system is now available to developers, according to the business. The work will serve as the cornerstone for Atlas’ expanding skill set.

Not within the box

Playter emphasizes that humanoids need to go out of the box in order to succeed.

He remarks, “I think you can do that with so many other robots.” “Humanoids must be capable of doing a wide range of tasks. You possess two hands. It is necessary to perform hundreds of thousands of sophisticated, heavy geometric shape picks that a basic box picker could not perform. I believe that the single-task robot is becoming obsolete. One of the final apps that allows a robot to function just by moving boxes around is called Stretch.

What will the new Atlas be used for on the Hyundai exhibition floor, if not boxes? The solution may be discovered in a February corporate video that showed the hydraulic robot interacting with the car’s struts, which are the Hyundai parts that Playter had previously mentioned.

He claims, “We’re strong and know how to accommodate a heavy payload and still maintain tremendous mobility because of our long history in dynamic mobility.” “I believe that our ability to lift big, complex, and heavy objects will set us apart. I’m guessing that strut in the video is twenty-five pounds. As part of this endeavour, we’ll release a video later that will showcase some further object manipulation tasks we’ve been performing using Atlas. Starting with wheels.