Artificial Intelligence

Google’s humanoid mastering obstacles as it strolls


Atlas has come a long way since its baby steps. The project managed by Boston Dynamics, part of Google Inc.’s prism of so-called moonshots under the umbrella of experimental X facility, showed its human-like robot made serious progress − it mastered moving across uneven terrain. Teachers walked it through training areas with obstacles and the machine’s algorithm learned through trial and error.

Scientists from the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) explained they instructed Atlas to test the foothold with an outstretched lower extremity by shifting weight, before deciding to go further. Its upper body and arms, meanwhile, shift in a way to keep the balance, mirroring angular momentum in human movement. The robot has no information on the configuration of the ground ahead. Atlas can also use a point contact underneath to quickly step over them.


The humanoid has a height of six feet and two inches (1.8 meters), but its weight is much bigger than the average for a model of its size – 330 pounds (150 kilograms). It has 28 joints or “hydraulically-actuated degrees of freedom,” in the words of the creators, alongside stereo vision. “In extremely challenging terrain, Atlas is strong and coordinated enough to climb using hands and feet, to pick its way through congested spaces. Articulated, sensate hands will enable Atlas to use tools designed for human use,” the presentation says. The system also sports a laser rangefinder.

The project, rolled out three years ago, is financed through the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), part of the Department of Defense. Atlas has went through upgrades of the prototype and had his driving skills tested, as it aspires to operate complex machines and vehicles in emergencies. The Pentagon declared this particular robot is a pacifist; it isn’t intended for military operations. Its skills include getting debris out of the way, climbing ladders, knocking down walls with a sledgehammer.

When Atlas falls, it can get up on its own, but the road to the achievement was bumpy. Engineers have been pushing and poking it and knocking objects from its hands, while hoping the robot isn’t revengeful.


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