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Meet Atlas, the Robot Designed to Save the Day
MIT Technology Review ^ | 07-12-2013 | By Will Knight

Posted on 07/22/2013 11:07:25 AM PDT by Red Badger

The latest innovation from the U.S. Defense Department’s research agency, DARPA, is a humanoid robot called Atlas that looks as if it could’ve walked straight off the set of the latest Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster.

In fact, Atlas is designed to eventually take on some of the most dangerous and high-stakes jobs imaginable, such as tending to a nuclear reactor during a meltdown, shutting off a deep-water oil spill, or helping to put out a raging wildfire. And if Atlas proves itself at such daredevil tasks, then one of its descendants might one day be allowed to do something just as important: help take care of the elderly and infirm.

Atlas was unveiled on Thursday at Boston Dynamics, a company based in Waltham, Massachusetts, that has already developed an impressive menagerie of robotic beasts, some with funding from the Department of Defense, including a headless robot pack mule called LS3, a gecko-like, wall-climbing bot called RiSE, and a four-legged machine called Cheetah capable of bounding along at 29 miles per hour.

Like these other machines, Atlas has incredible capabilities for a legged machine. The six-foot-tall, 330-pound robot has 28 degrees of freedom enabled by powerful hydraulically driven joints that allow it to not only carry heavy objects but adjust with remarkable speed to loss of balance. The robot’s head includes a laser-ranging instrument called a lidar that provides it with a detailed 3-D map of its surroundings. And it has two pairs of slightly different robotic hands. The robot currently requires a tether that feeds it cooling water and high-voltage power, but the goal is to develop an untethered version in 2014.

At Thursday’s event, Atlas performed robotic calisthenics designed to demonstrate its flexibility—somewhat noisily due to the shuddering movement of its hydraulic muscles. Videos showed prototypes walking over uneven ground and inching along narrow ledges in simulations.

Several Atlas robots, and a handful of other robots, are involved in the DARPA Robotics Challenge—a contest designed to spur the creation of a robot capable of being remotely operated in treacherous, complex emergency situations. Teams from academia and industry are competing in two groups: one involved in designing and building robots for such missions; another engaged in developing the control software for rescue robots. The seven teams competing in the latter track will each be loaned an Atlas by DARPA to perfect their code.

The teams enrolled in the challenge will spend the next few months training their robots to compete in a grueling physical contest designed to gauge their ability to perform tasks that would challenge many humans. This December, at an event held at the Homestead Miami Speedway, the robots will try to navigate a robot obstacle course involving such challenges as climbing into and driving a vehicle, clambering over rubble, and attaching and operating a hose.

Despite the fact that Atlas bears a more-than-passing resemblance to an early Terminator prototype, DARPA insists that the robot is not designed for “adversarial” military tasks, and is intended only for humanitarian missions. The agency notes that its Robotics Challenge was inspired by the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, when human workers struggled to control a nuclear plant severely damaged by an earthquake and tsunami. DARPA did, in fact, send a handful of wheeled robots to the Fukushima plant, but these were unable to cope with obstacles such as rubble on the ground, or to perform the complex tasks needed. “We were tearing our hair out trying to help, and the truth is there was very little we could do,” DARPA program manager Gill Pratt said at Thursday’s unveiling.

Long a staple of science fiction, humanoid robots have been kicking around robotics research labs for decades. But they have typically been too slow, weak, or clumsy to do much. Recent improvements in sensors and hardware have brought the prospect of a humanoid ready for real-world deployment closer. “A number of technologies have gotten just good enough, or almost good enough, to make this thing work,” Pratt said, pointing to the hydraulic controls, the lidar navigation system built into the robot’s head, and its interchangeable hands.

“It’s an extraordinary machine,” said Seth Teller, a professor at MIT who, along with colleague Russ Tedrake, leads one of the groups selected to receive an Atlas. “They’ve done a fantastic job on these machines; it’s been a real pleasure to see and touch and use the real hardware.”

The teams given Atlas robots will have to develop control software that will allow human controllers to operate the robots despite significant time delays—a constraint designed to mimic the challenge of operating from through the walls of a crumbling nuclear plant, or at a far-flung distance. The strategy adopted by Teller’s team involves having the human operator break each high-level mission into a series of smaller tasks, and guide the robot through a performance of each task. “Existing teleoperation systems impose too much cognitive load on the operator. One major aspect of the DARPA challenge is finding a way of commanding these robots that reduces that burden,” Teller said.

Asked what kinds of innovations Atlas could inspire beyond emergency work, he said humanoid robots could perhaps one day find a job in health care. “I know this robot looks big, and I know it weighs 300 pounds, but the number-one use for machines of this type is going to be in home care and health care,” he said.

Man-machine: Atlas was developed for the military agency DARPA as a prototype emergency response robot.

Walking tall: A version of Atlas without its arms walks on a treadmill at Boston Dynamic


TOPICS: Computers/Internet; Education; Military/Veterans; Science
KEYWORDS: computers; military; robot

1 posted on 07/22/2013 11:07:25 AM PDT by Red Badger
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To: Red Badger

“Roll over for your sponge-bath, meatbag.”


2 posted on 07/22/2013 11:09:49 AM PDT by tumblindice (America's founding fathers: All armed conservatives.)
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To: Red Badger

“We found something that led us to ideas we never would have thought of before”. (Terminator 2)


3 posted on 07/22/2013 11:11:36 AM PDT by rusty schucklefurd
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To: Red Badger
With that headline, he should have looked like:


4 posted on 07/22/2013 11:12:20 AM PDT by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: Red Badger
DARPA insists that the robot is not designed for “adversarial” military tasks, and is intended only for humanitarian missions.

Of course, "humanitarian missions" will be the term for eliminating tea partiers, gun owners, and any other enemies of the regime.

5 posted on 07/22/2013 11:13:10 AM PDT by SIDENET
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To: thackney

Mighty Mouse !!!


6 posted on 07/22/2013 11:13:48 AM PDT by Tennessee Nana
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To: Red Badger

It will become self-aware at 2:14 a.m.


7 posted on 07/22/2013 11:18:39 AM PDT by F15Eagle (1Jn4:15;5:4-5,11-13;Mt27:50-54;Mk15:33-34;Jn3:17-18,6:69,11:25,14:6,20:31;Ro10:8-11;1Tm2:5-6;Ti3:4-7)
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To: Red Badger

Ummm...

Was he programmed to “shrug”?


8 posted on 07/22/2013 11:19:02 AM PDT by Cletus.D.Yokel
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To: SIDENET

Will it have shrugged program available?


9 posted on 07/22/2013 11:19:08 AM PDT by wally_bert (There are no winners in a game of losers. I'm Tommy Joyce, welcome to the Oriental Lounge.)
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To: Red Badger

Or coming round to your place to collect your guns...


10 posted on 07/22/2013 11:20:41 AM PDT by Buckeye McFrog
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To: Red Badger

Why create your successor?


11 posted on 07/22/2013 11:24:20 AM PDT by wastedyears (One nation, under wub. Saints Row IV)
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To: SIDENET
Of course, "humanitarian missions" will be the term for eliminating tea partiers, gun owners, and any other enemies of the regime.

Which is why we all need phased plasma rifles in the 40-watt range.

12 posted on 07/22/2013 11:34:32 AM PDT by kitchen (Make plans and prepare. You'll never have trouble if you're ready for it. - TR)
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To: Red Badger

For starters, it looks like it will snag on anything and everything it walks past.


13 posted on 07/22/2013 11:38:16 AM PDT by BwanaNdege ("To learn who rules over you simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize"- Voltaire)
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To: wastedyears

Ego drives the engineer to see if he can do it.


14 posted on 07/22/2013 11:40:22 AM PDT by bmwcyle (People who do not study history are destine to believe really ignorant statements.)
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To: kitchen
Which is why we all need phased plasma rifles in the 40-watt range.

"Hey, just what you see, pal."

15 posted on 07/22/2013 11:52:52 AM PDT by SIDENET
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To: kitchen

Wonder if it will have a ray shield to protect itself from view?


16 posted on 07/22/2013 11:54:31 AM PDT by wally_bert (There are no winners in a game of losers. I'm Tommy Joyce, welcome to the Oriental Lounge.)
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To: kitchen
Which is why we all need phased plasma rifles in the 40-watt range.

40 watt??!!

I simply do NOT carry anything lower than 300 watts. No way. If your gonna go...go big.

17 posted on 07/22/2013 11:54:39 AM PDT by Bloody Sam Roberts (So Obama "inherited" a mess? Firemen "inherit" messes too. Ever see one put gasoline on it?)
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To: Bloody Sam Roberts

Let’s see what the robot can do in the Bering Sea in January.


18 posted on 07/22/2013 12:01:49 PM PDT by EQAndyBuzz (The reason we own guns is to protect ourselves from those wanting to take our guns from us.)
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To: wastedyears

David: “Why do you think your people made me?”
Charlie Hollowell: “We made you because we could.”
David: “Imagine how disappointed you would be if you heard that from your creator.”
CH: “Then it’s a good thing you can’t feel disappointment.”
“Prometheus” the movie


19 posted on 07/22/2013 12:05:16 PM PDT by tumblindice (America's founding fathers: All armed conservatives.)
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To: Bloody Sam Roberts
How many Chevy Volt batteries do you need to run that thing?
20 posted on 07/22/2013 12:06:45 PM PDT by kitchen (Make plans and prepare. You'll never have trouble if you're ready for it. - TR)
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We are Free Republic!
All of us!!
Please contribute today!!

21 posted on 07/22/2013 12:07:34 PM PDT by RedMDer (When immigrants cannot or will not assimilate, its really just an invasion. Throw them out!)
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To: Red Badger

That bad boy looks big enough to where you could strap a Honda 3.5KW generator to his back as a power source and send him on his way...........Just guessing.


22 posted on 07/22/2013 12:15:33 PM PDT by The Cajun (Sarah Palin, Mark Levin, Ted Cruz......Nuff said.)
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To: wally_bert

They send it to the IT shop whenever it defaults to the Blue Screen Of Shrug (BSOS)


23 posted on 07/22/2013 12:25:26 PM PDT by ClearCase_guy (21st century. I'm not a fan.)
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To: wastedyears
Why create your successor?

Did you mean to post that on one of the royal baby threads? :-)

24 posted on 07/22/2013 12:26:30 PM PDT by KarlInOhio (This message has been recorded but not approved by Obama's StasiNet. Read it at your peril.)
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To: ClearCase_guy

It will disappear to Colorado or get a job as trackwalker. Maybe it will be able to override all communications channels for 3 hours at a time.


25 posted on 07/22/2013 12:33:40 PM PDT by wally_bert (There are no winners in a game of losers. I'm Tommy Joyce, welcome to the Oriental Lounge.)
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To: kitchen
How many Chevy Volt batteries do you need to run that thing?

None. It is powered by a Zero Point Module which contains a very small singularity. Top Secret. All very hush-hush you know.

26 posted on 07/22/2013 12:36:09 PM PDT by Bloody Sam Roberts (So Obama "inherited" a mess? Firemen "inherit" messes too. Ever see one put gasoline on it?)
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To: ClearCase_guy

Yes but can it say “Danger, Danger Will Robinson” ?


27 posted on 07/22/2013 12:46:21 PM PDT by Buckeye McFrog
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To: Bloody Sam Roberts
Cool. I need one of those. As a matter of fact, maybe a dozen.

Can these be scaled up to get starship engines the size of walnuts?

28 posted on 07/22/2013 1:44:57 PM PDT by kitchen (Make plans and prepare. You'll never have trouble if you're ready for it. - TR)
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To: Red Badger

29 posted on 07/22/2013 2:23:26 PM PDT by mowowie
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To: tumblindice

I thought it was a horrible movie, and terribly predictable.


30 posted on 07/22/2013 6:26:12 PM PDT by wastedyears (One nation, under wub. Saints Row IV)
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To: Red Badger; AdmSmith; AnonymousConservative; Berosus; bigheadfred; Bockscar; ColdOne; ...

Thanks Red Badger.

As an aside, “Under The Dome” is pretty much the stupidest show I’ve ever actually had on the screen. I’ve avoided stuff that looked even more stupid.


31 posted on 07/22/2013 7:11:44 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (It's no coincidence that some "conservatives" echo the hard left.)
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To: SunkenCiv

My wife and I like ‘Under the Dome’. It’s weird because it’s a Stephen King show.......


32 posted on 07/23/2013 6:18:46 AM PDT by Red Badger (Want to be surprised? Google your own name......Want to have fun? Google your friend's names........)
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To: wastedyears

Prometheus was a MAJOR disappointment.
Everything about it!
I cannot believe that a sequel with that same horrid woman and android has been greenlighted.
At least her tool boy boyfriend won’t be back.
Maybe they will get a decent writer this time....


33 posted on 07/25/2013 10:14:01 AM PDT by mowowie
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To: mowowie

What horrid woman? The only human survivor?


34 posted on 07/25/2013 12:50:26 PM PDT by wastedyears (One nation, under wub. Saints Row IV)
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To: wastedyears

yea, Noomi whatever.


35 posted on 07/28/2013 7:30:09 PM PDT by mowowie
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