Judgement Day has come early this year! At least that’s the impression I got when I took a look at this new DARPA prototype for a future robotic infantryman. With its anthropomorphic frame, servomotors and cables, sensor-clustered face, and the shining lights on its chest, this machine just screams Terminator! Yet surprisingly, it is being developed to help humans beings. Yeah, that’s what they said about Skynet, right before it nuked us!
Yes, this 6-foot, 330-pound robot, which was unveiled this past Thursday, was in fact designed as a testbed humanoid for disaster response. Designed to carry tools and tackle rough terrain, this robot – and those like it – are intended to operate in hazardous or disaster-stricken areas, assisting in rescue efforts and performing tasks that would ordinarily endanger the lives of human workers.
Funded by DARPA as part of their Robotics Challenge, the robot was developed by Boston Dynamics, the same people who brought you the AlphaDog – aka the Legged Squad Support System (LS3, pictured above) – and the Petman soldier robot. The former was developed as an all-terrain quadruped robot that could as an infantry-support vehicle by carrying a squad’s heavy ordinance over rough terrain.
The latter, like Atlas, was developed as testbed to see just how anthropomorphic a robot can be – i.e. whether or not it could move, run and jump with fluidity rather than awkward “robot” movements, and handle different surfaces. Some of you may recall seeing a video or two of it doing pushups and running on a treadmill back in 2011.
Alas, Atlas represents something vastly different and more complex than these other two machines. It was designed to not only walk and carry things, but can travel over rough terrain and climb using its hands and feet. Its head includes stereo cameras and a laser range finder to help it navigate its environment.
And, as Boston Dynamics claimed in a press release, the bot also possesses “sensate hands” that are capable of using human tools, and “28 hydraulically actuated degrees of freedom”. Its only weakness, at present, is the electrical power supply it is tethered to. But other than that, it is the most “human” robot – purely in terms physical capabilities – to date. Not only that, but it also looks pretty badass when seen in this full-profile pic, doesn’t it?
The DARPA Robotics Challenge is designed to help evolve machines that can cope with disasters and hazardous environments like nuclear power plant accidents. The seven teams currently in the challenge will get their own Atlas bot and then program it until December, when trials will be held at the Homestead Miami Speedway in Florida – where they will be presented with a series of challenges.
In the meantime, check out the video below of the Atlas robot as it demonstrates it full range of motion while busting a move! Then tell me if the robot is any less frightening to you. Can’t help but look at the full-length picture and imagine a plasma cannon in its hands, can you?