Thu, Aug 20, 2015 - Page 15 News List

Alphabet-owned firm aims for robots to rival humans

The Guardian

Boston Dynamics, the robot company owned by Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google Inc, has taken on a new challenge: the great outdoors.

In a video released this week, Boston Dynamics founder Mark Raibert showed the latest iteration of its Atlas robot going for a walk — more of a stomp, really — through the woods.

“My goal is to build robots that rival humans and animals or maybe even exceed humans and animals in their ability to move around in the world, manipulate things, perceive what’s around them,” he told the crowd. “It’s a pretty tall order.”

By way of introduction, Raibert showed the crowd assembled for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Fab Foundation symposium in Boston earlier this month a video of some mountain goats clambering across a steep slope, including a young kid.

“One of those animals is right off the assembly line, has no trouble with extremely rough terrain, doing perception in the environment,” Raibert said.

It is difficult to make metal and circuitry mimic all that natural ability, he said.

“We’ve been working hard trying to rival those animals, and as I said, eventually we hope to surpass them, building a whole series of robots that are able to move dynamically [meaning that there is energy in the motion] and balance themselves,” he said.

The bipedal Atlas was not the only robot showcased — the company has another four-legged model, LS-3 built to carry a 181kg payload over 32km of variable terrain “anywhere a solider might go.”

The focus overall, said Raibert, is on balance and dynamics.

“Out in the world is just a totally different challenge than in the lab,” he said. “You can’t predict what it’s going to be like.”

Eventually, the robot — which currently runs on a tether, but had a backpack full of fuel in the versions used at the Darpa Robotics Challenge — would have “mobility that’s sort of within shooting range of yours.”

Fabrication in the robotics world is changing.

Raibert said that by the end of the year, Boston Dynamics hoped to have robots with “hydraulic elements just printed into them” instead of separate hydraulics screwed or bolted to the robot’s “bones.”

Boston Dynamics has already shown its skills in the real world. The company made two out of the three Atlas robots capable of successfully shutting down a nuclear reactor at the Darpa Robotics Challenge this summer, though the software running the Atlases was developed by other firms.

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