This is how the Atlas robot can already work and interact with us

The Boston Dynamics laboratory automaton masters the world around him, even helping a human colleague on a scaffolding

Robot Atlas: Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant
Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant

In recent years, the robot Atlas humanoid from the tech company Boston Dynamics he had amazed the world with his dance moves, leaps, leaps and even a deadly back flip in the complex parkour course.
However, all of this is already a thing of the past, as the time has come for Atlas to acquire a new set of skills.
In the most recent video released by the US company, entitled "Atlas Gets a Grip" and dating back to January 18, 2023, the robot of the same name literally and perfectly handles the real world around it.
He interacts with physical objects and possibly modifies his own path and behavior to achieve the concrete goal that he has been given, or that he has given himself: to deliver a bag of tools to a person, a worker in the flesh, waiting atop a multi-story scaffolding.
In the role of a perfect carpenter assistant, Atlas grabs, carries and throws the container with the work tools useful to the worker, climbs the stairs, jumps from one level to another and pushes a large block of wood, before dismounting from the platform with a 540-degree reverse somersault, which the project engineers dubbed the “Sick Trick”.

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Robot Atlas: Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant
Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant

From parkour and dance to a third phase of sophisticated manipulation

At first glance, the routine seems to deviate a bit from the previous videos, making it less flashy and more functional.
“But the new moves represent a natural evolution of ongoing research”Says Ben Stephens, “control manager of Atlas”.
“We are adding new capabilities”, says the technician of the now famous company in Waltham, in the US state of Massachusetts.
“Parkour and dance have been interesting examples of quite extreme robot locomotion, but we are now looking to build on those research activities to come up with much more meaningful manipulation capabilities.”
And yet: “It is important for us that the robot can perform these tasks with a certain speed, at least comparable to human speed. Humans are pretty good at these tasks and exercises, which is why this required some pretty major updates to the control software.”

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Robot Atlas: Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant
Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant

The kit of functions has been expanded, to pursue an arduous dynamic balance

For anyone who isn't a robot, the ability to do a backflip (or even dance a “Mashed Potato” like young Yankees in 1962…) may seem more impressive than picking up and delivering a bag of tools.
But a robot performing manipulative tasks requires a more nuanced understanding of one's surroundings.
His dance in "Do You Love Me?" she was completely blind, with no real and necessary perception of her surroundings that would allow Atlas to react properly.
In “Partners in Parkour,” the automaton sensed and moved over and around fixed obstacles, sometimes with breathtaking movements.
For this new routine, the locomotion and sensing capabilities of the robot they are faced with the added challenge of not only sensing, grasping and moving objects of different sizes, materials and weights, but also of maintaining balance as they move through the world.

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Robot Atlas: Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant
Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant

Ben Stephens: “The leap of 180 degrees holding an axis in hand is incredible”

“Parkour forces us to understand the physical limitations of the robot, while dance forces us to think about how precise and skillful the movement of the whole body can be”, explains Robin Deits, software engineer on Atlas' control team.
“The manipulation we pursue now requires us to take this information and interpret it in terms of how we can make robotic hands do something specific. The important thing about the Atlas project is that we don't drop any of the other things we've learned."
Ben Stephens, one of the new routine's most impressive sequences is at the beginning, when Atlas masters a large wooden plank.
“A lot of things happen, and it all happens very quickly,” he points out.
“Instead of turning around with caution”, Stephens observes again, “Atlas performs a 180-degree jump while holding the plank, which means the robot's control system has to account for the momentum of the piece of wood to avoid tipping over. Afterwards, Atlas places the axis at exactly the right point in the surrounding world, for later use.”

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Robot Atlas: Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant
Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant

The asymmetrical challenge of a not so common back flip finish…

Pushing the wooden box off the platform is also a deceptively complex task: Atlas must generate enough force to drop the box, leaning his weight in the push without dropping his body off the platform.
The backflip at the end of the trick is also much more difficult than the previous stunts, precisely because the twist adds an asymmetry that doesn't exist in a normal backflip.
Not only is the math of the operation more complicated, but during testing Atlas kept getting entangled in its own limbs as it tucked its arms and legs in, forcing engineers to fix issues as they arose and improve the control system so that he was able to choose strategies that avoided self-collisions.
"We are using all the force available in almost all joints of the robot”Deits explains.
“This trick is right on the edge of what the robot can do”.

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Robot Atlas: Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant
Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant

Only Spot and Stretch on the market, because the future is all to be built

While some robot of the company founded by Marc Raibert in 1992, such as Spot and Stretch, are commercially available, Atlas is a development platform.
The Atlas team is focused on pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
The leaps and bounds Atlas' R&D makes can help improve the hardware and software of these others robot and to advance a "go anywhere, do anything" automaton, thus capable of performing essentially all the same physical tasks as a person.
Scott Kuindersma, Atlas team lead at the Boston Dynamics, acknowledges that robots are unlikely to use their bag of gymnastic tricks on construction sites.
“This is more of a demonstration of some of the new robot control capabilities and a fun link to our previous work”, he explains.

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Robot Atlas: Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant
Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant

Still far from dirty or dangerous jobs in the real world

“Our hope is that if we can build the underlying technology that allows us to easily create and adapt dynamic behaviors like these, we should be able to leverage it in the future to perform real, physically demanding jobs with momentum.”
Then, “There are many building blocks needed to provide a complete solution in an industry like manufacturing or construction – this video only highlights a small part of what we are working on.”
Ben Stephens claims that roboticists or robotic engineers still are "very far" from creating humanoid robots capable of habitually tackling dirty and dangerous jobs in the real world.
“Manipulation is a very broad category of possible activities and we still have a lot of work to do”, he claims.
“But all of this still gives us an idea of ​​the direction that the sector is taking. This is the future of robotics”.

On 4 November in Lausanne the "Swiss Robotics Day"

The Yankee robot Atlas in the role of a perfect man's carpenter assistant

Robot Atlas: Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant
Yankee robot Atlas as a perfect carpenter assistant