Boston Dynamics is not stopping the company’s team from teaching Atlas new skills, despite its upcoming new owner. In an official demo video recently released, the two Atlas units demonstrate near-human parkour abilities. The 90-second video shows Altas jumping, backflips and more, interspersed with jogging and sudden turns.
More importantly, these parkour abilities are not pre-programmed to begin with. Although it might be easier for Boston Dynamics to do this if it were just pre-programmed. But this pre-programmed model isn’t really useful when the robot has to deal with the changing real world. For this reason, developers handed Atlas a variety of different core actions, which the robot then decided to combine and execute based on the terrain.
Boston Dynamics explains, “In this iteration of parkour, the robot is adapting its behavior in the repertoire based on what it sees. This means engineers don’t need to pre-program jumping moves for all the possible platforms and crevices the robot might encounter. Instead, the team created a smaller number of template behaviors that can be matched to the environment and executed online.”
While back-flipping in a warehouse or hurdling over a desk may not be particularly important skills, the robot’s ability to move from one behavior to another and remain balanced and effective is certainly important. The resulting algorithms – shaped and constrained by factors such as strength-to-weight ratio, range of motion, and even physical robustness – have broader applications for Boston Dynamics’ commercial robots, such as the Spot robot dog.