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A Boston Dynamics robot fell off a stage, and the audience loved it

Boston Dynamics' Atlas Falls Over After Demo at the Congress of Future Scientists and Technologists
Anyone sweating over the robot apocalypse will be delighted to learn that it probably won’t be happening for a while, at least if Boston Dynamics‘ recent fail is anything to go by.

The company has built a deserved reputation in recent years for creating incredibly capable robots, among them BigDog, WildCat, Handle, SpotMini, and Atlas.

Ah yes, Atlas. Although this 5-foot 9-inch humanoid robot spends most of its time wowing us mere humans with its stunning ability to stroll nonchalantly across a range of challenging terrain as well as grab and effortlessly lift heavy objects, it recently had everyone laughing in the aisles after tripping over on stage and landing in a heap.

The unfortunate incident took place last month during a Boston Dynamics presentation at the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders. On stage, CEO Marc Raibert was showing off Atlas and SpotMini, a four-legged “robot giraffe” capable of picking up objects and carrying out chores.

During the slot, an assistant controlled SpotMini remotely, while Atlas used its sensors to get around. Keen to demonstrate Atlas’s ability to lock onto an object and respond accordingly, the team placed a box on the stage for the robot to pick up. At first, its vision system failed to notice the box, which caused a few chuckles in the audience.

“It’s the normal course of business for things not to always work right,” Raibert said, unaware that in a couple of minutes his words would ring even truer.

A moment later, Atlas located the box, lifted it up, and put it back down again. The audience applauded in response.

For the next demo, the team decided to have some fun, getting SpotMini to move the box a little bit away from Atlas every time it bent down to grab it. Eventually SpotMini let Atlas take the box, and once again, the audience showed its appreciation.

As Raibert thanked SpotMini and Atlas for their efforts, Atlas wandered off toward the back of the stage, still holding the box. It seemed perfectly in control, confident in where it was heading, until it tripped on a stage light and went crashing to the ground, disappearing behind a curtain as it did so. SpotMini trotted over, seemingly curious to see if its buddy was OK.

Seeing the funny side, Raibert quipped, “I wish I could pretend it was supposed to do that.”

Knowing Atlas’s remarkable ability to steady itself if it gets shoved, its on-stage mishap may surprise some. The robot is actually capable of getting back on its feet after a fall, though we’ve no idea if Atlas managed it this time around. But with every unexpected tumble will come analysis and improvements, taking us another step closer to the day when robots have us for breakfast.

But until that happens, let’s enjoy a couple more robot fails, such as this one by Honda’s Asimo robot a few years back …

Honda's Asimo Robot buckling on the stairs

And this hilarious compilation of humanoid robots crashing down during a DARPA contest in 2015 …

A Compilation of Robots Falling Down at the DARPA Robotics Challenge

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Trevor Mogg
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