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Boston Dynamics Shows Off Atlas Robot Working Construction


Over the years, Boston Dynamics has shared several videos demonstrating the continuously improved capabilities of its ATLAS humanoid robot. We know the robot can do everything from hauling heavy goods to performing parkour-caliber backflipsbut if the company really wants to convince us that ATLAS will one day be an invaluable addition to the workforce, it’s going to need to follow the same rules that apply to its human co-workers.

Today, Boston Dynamics shared a couple of new videos of its humanoid robot in action Twitter and YouTube. Past videos have demonstrated how nimble and balanced ATLAS can be on two feet, something the world really hasn’t seen before with humanoid robots outside of Hollywood trickery, but without any real practical applications of the technology. At least SPOT, Boston Dynamics’ robot dog, could open doors and hurl cinder blocks using its arm attachment.

The company’s latest ATLAS video gives us a good look at how the robot could work alongside humans in a real-world setting like a construction site—although simulated in Boston Dynamics’ facilities. Using the color and depth-sensing cameras that ATLAS uses to see the world, as well as intelligent image processing of the world around it, the robot is able to pick up and place a wooden plank to use as a makeshift bridge. It then and carries a bag of tools up to a construction worker atop a scaffolding structure before making a flamboyant acrobatic dismount back to the ground.

Inside the Lab: Taking Atlas From Sim to Scaffold

The videos effectively show off ATLAS’ new skills including the ability to jump and spin while holding added weight—in this case, the wooden plank and tool bag—the ability to throw that heavy bag of tools during a spin jump, exerting just enough power to topple a large wooden crate without disrupting its own balance, and a more complex multi-axis flip off an elevated surface. All impressive feats, and all very effective ways to get written up for safety violations on a construction site. Here they are the concerns we spotted:

  • Not wearing a hard hat. Even with a reinforced frame, being struck from above by a dropped tool or something like a brick will easily destroy ATLAS’ fancy vision system.
  • Not wearing steel-toe boots. It doesn’t matter if your toes are actually made of steel. Rules are rules, and a good pair of boots are as much about protecting feet as they are about making it easier for construction workers to safely navigate a site.
  • Throwing a bag of tools. Come on, this wouldn’t be acceptable on the ground, let alone up on a raised scaffolding platform. You’re going to hurt someone, and it’s doubtful your buddy wants their expensive collection of tools just tossed through the air like a sack of potatoes.
  • Running. Every construction project is on a tight deadline, but running on a construction site isn’t going to get the job done any faster. Instead, it’s probably going to add delays when you inevitably trip and fall and hurt yourself, or someone else.
  • Toppling a giant wooden crate. Even if ATLAS had paused to make sure there was no one on the ground first, pushing a giant wooden crate off an elevated platform on a busy construction site is about as dangerous a stunt as you can imagine. This is why companies pay for cranes and forklifts.
  • Parkour at work. The oohs and aahs from your co-workers as you dismount a raised scaffolding like an Olympic athlete coming off a balance beam will be quickly drowned out by the screams from your foreman who caught your stunt from the office and is sending you home for the rest of the day to think about what you did. Just use the stairs, or a ladder.

We’re as excited as anyone to see what ATLAS could do in the real world, but learning to follow the rules (besides those three that Asimov thought up) is just as important as everything else ATLAS has learned to date.





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