Scared yet? Boston Dynamics’ humanoid robot can now jog freely

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot has been untethered and set free, which, for anyone convinced of an imminent robot uprising, is a rather worrying development.

A video posted on YouTube this week shows the humanoid robot running at a fair clip across open land before jumping over a log that it finds in its path.

It’s impressive stuff, and shows just how far bipedal robots have come in a short space of time. For proof, check out this amusing compilation video from a contest in 2015 showing a bunch of similarly designed robots looking as if they’ve spent a night drinking as they simply try to walk, let alone break into a jog à la Atlas.

To be honest, it’s not the most impressive thing we’ve seen Atlas do. Last November, for example, we were treated to a video of the robot performing a perfect backflip. Pretty astonishing for a 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pound machine.

Atlas hasn’t always been so clever, though. Last August, two videos surfaced showing the robot taking a tumble, once on stage when it tripped over a light and again during a shelf-stacking demonstration.

SpotMini goes for a walk

Boston Dynamics also released a video (below) showing its SpotMini “robot dog” navigating a specified route through its office and lab facility. The team said that before the walk, it led the robot along the route manually so it could build up a map of the course using cameras mounted on its front, back, and sides.

“During the autonomous run, SpotMini uses data from the cameras to localize itself in the map and to detect and avoid obstacles,” Boston Dynamics said in notes accompanying the video.

The walk lasted just over six minutes, with the company keen to point out that the QR codes visible in the video are for measuring performance, and are not a navigation aid.

Boston Dynamics has built a stellar reputation in recent years, designing amazingly capable robots, among them BigDog, WildCat, Handle, SpotMini, and Atlas.

The team’s long-term plans for the robots aren’t really clear, but their extraordinary agility and skill means their technologies could one day be applied across a range of industries, possibly sooner rather than later judging by their current abilities. For the time being, Boston Dynamics says it’s keen to continue developing “machines that break boundaries, and work in the real world.”

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