Boston Dynamics Atlas Robot Ups Its Parkour Game

Boston Dynamics Atlas Robot Ups Its Parkour Game

Boston Dynamics spent most of its 29-year history with no consumer products at all. Now, it has one in the $75,000 Spot robot. There’s still no way to buy the company’s humanoid Atlas robot, but it’s learning some new tricks nonetheless. In the latest Boston Dynamics video, you can marvel at the speed and agility of two Atlas robots as they navigate a parkour course. They even pull off some sick flips.

Atlas was unveiled back in 2013, and at the time it couldn’t do much more than walk in circles. The robot, which is five feet (1.5 meters) tall and weighs 190 pounds (86 kilograms), was initially intended for search-and-rescue applications. While the quadrupedal Spot is already a commercial product with similar potential uses, a bipedal robot could more easily navigate a world built around bipedal humans.

Back in 2018, Boston Dynamics showed the first hints of what Atlas could do in another Parkour video. It was much less impressive than the current version, though. The new video has a much more elaborate course with several different platforms, slanted ramps, and even a balance beam. As Boston Dynamics is prone to do, the video starts with just one robot, and then another appears out of nowhere to up the ante. The two jog, jump, and even do backflips. It’s probably safe to say that Atlas has surpassed the agility of your average human at this point.

But hold on, why is this robot doing parkour anyway? Boston Dynamics says that parkour is an excellent test of its hydraulically actuated robot. It requires Atlas to maintain its balance across various terrains and while avoiding obstacles. The failures, when Atlas wiped out while attempting a stunt, were also informative to the team developing the robot’s control algorithms.

You can see some of those failures in the “behind the scenes” video below. What you’re seeing in the polished final video is a piece of intricate choreography. The robot can reliably do each of the stunts you see reliably on its own, but stringing it all together is a challenge. The robots occasionally topple over or trip trying to clear a jump, but little by little, they’re getting better. Today, Atlas can complete tasks like running and jumping without issue that used to be worthy of video releases all on their own. Teach them how to do more karate, and humanity is in trouble.

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