When Google X purchased robot builders Boston Dynamics in 2013, it was hard to avoid wondering what the tech titan had up its sleeve. That's still not 100 percent clear, but one thing is obvious since Boston Dynamics introduced the newest version of its Atlas bipedal robot: with three years of work and Google's bottomless deep pockets, Atlas has evolved from a herky-jerky novelty into a surprisingly agile and eerily sophisticated android. Admit it, you'd freak out if you saw this approaching you in the snowy woods.
The earlier version of Atlas lived up to its name in size, standing over six feet tall and weighing in excess of 300 pounds. This version is sleek and light, standing 5'9" and weighing less than 200 lbs. In keeping with the original search and rescue intent for the robot, Atlas seems to navigate the outdoors with ease, and can quickly recover from attempts to knock it off-balance.
On the home page for the video, Boston Dynamics explains that the "electrically powered and hydraulically actuated" robot is making its way through the world by using "sensors in its body and legs to balance and LIDAR and stereo sensors in its head to avoid obstacles, assess the terrain, help with navigation and manipulate objects."
It's not clear how much of Atlas's behavior is being controlled via a wireless hook-up to an operator. We hope it's not too autonomous yet, though—a robot with an average computer's capacity for memory might remember all the ill-treatment Atlas receives in this video and could one day do something about it. But that's still just science fiction. We hope.
h/t IEEE Spectrum