Atlas: how the humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics works

In recent times, robots have been the protagonists of the engineering world, starting from the now well-known Spot up to the newborn Cyberdog . Among the most famous, we cannot fail to mention Atlas, the humanoid robot of Boston Dynamics with impressive agility and fluidity of movement , so much so as to make the machine the protagonist of an original choreography . Together with his canine brother Spot, Atlas danced to the tune of "Do you love me", giving us an impeccable twist.

Since 2013, when the world got to know the robot, Atlas has evolved to achieve incredible results. A few days ago Boston Dynamics released a video in which two Atlas do parkour , overcoming obstacles, running on beams and juggling vaulting boards. Not only that: the two robots are also able to jump backwards with an impressive naturalness.

Atlas, the Boston Dynamics humanoid

A perfect platform for research and development: this is Atlas by Boston Dynamics , but not only. The latest video released by the American company shows us a stunning robot, able to complete a parkour run without any difficulty , performing surprising movements. The latest generation of humanoid robot shows human agility and dynamism, raising once again the bar of robotics.

The automaton has a 28-joint hydraulic system capable of guaranteeing excellent mobility. These hydraulic "joints" allow to minimize the load and avoid pressure peaks on the individual joints. Atlas is capable of reaching a speed of 2.5 m / s, stands 1.5 meters tall and weighs 89kg . All parts of the robot are made with 3D printers and designed to balance strength and weight in the best possible way.

Behind the movements of Atlas there is a team of researchers dedicated not only to the physical realization of the robot, but above all to the generation of algorithms able to better manage the movements of action and reaction, allowing the automaton to adapt to different situations. There are real movement templates that exploit trajectory optimization , that is the process of designing a trajectory to undergo specific constraints and performance objectives.

Thanks to the depth sensors, the robot is able to generate point clouds to map the environment in which it is located, identifying obstacles and optimal paths. With MPC ( Model Predictive Control ) Atlas can adapt movement in real time , adapting to environmental changes and sudden hindrances.

Atlas, the incredible humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics. Source: Boston Dynamics
Atlas, the incredible humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics. Source: Boston Dynamics

Atlas was designed to handle emergency situations and rescue operations . The robot is in fact able to rotate all types of valves, open doors and operate in hostile and dangerous environments for humans. Atlas can also drive small service vehicles, remove debris, climb ladders, connect hoses to fire hydrants and use various tools.

From generation to generation

The Atlas that is depopulating these days is just the latest generation of a robot family born in 2013. The development of the humanoid automaton began under the supervision of DARPA , the agency of the United States Department of Defense. The first Atlas prototype was born as a refinement of PETMAN, a bipedal automaton built to test chemical protective suits. This robot, the ancestor of Atlas, was the first anthropomorphic machine.

The first version of the robot was compared to a one-year-old child for its awkward movement and difficulty in walking smoothly. However, the improvements did not take long to arrive, and a few months after his "birth" Atlas became able to walk on steep artificial ground and climb with arms and legs. The next step was to stay balanced after being hit by a bullet.

With a leap in 2016 we arrive at the second generation of the robo t , announced by Boston Dynamics with a video on YouTube. Atlas proved capable of operating outdoors and on increasingly steep terrain , as well as walking on snow and jumping backwards. This version, 1.25 meters high and 80 kg in weight, represents the modern aspect of the robot that over the years has gone through many improvements, starting to jump obstacles, do somersaults, do the handstand and follow gymnastic routines and of dance. Impossible not to be amazed by the ever-increasing abilities of the robot.

Boston Dynamics: History of a Prolific Company

The world's most famous robotics company has its roots in MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The company was in fact born as a spin-off of the research institute, in 1992, founded by Marc Raibert. Boston Dynamics did not immediately operate in the field of robotics: in the first years of activity the company was involved in creating realistic and interactive 3D simulations for the training of the US Navy's aviation. The close relationship with the army led Boston Dynamics to create robots for military purposes: in 2005 BigDog saw the light, a four-legged automaton designed as a "robotic mule" for soldiers where vehicles could not reach.

BigDog, historic robot of Boston Dynamics.
BigDog, historic robot of Boston Dynamics.

BigDog sanctioned the company's entry into the world of robotics. Then comes Cheetah, a quadrupedal robot not to be confused with the namesake of MIT. The automaton is capable of reaching 45 km / h, a real record for four-legged robots. 2010 was the year of LittleDog, similar to BigDog in appearance but much smaller in size. The automaton was not intended for military purposes, but only as a test bed for different situations.

The real success of Boston Dynamics came in 2016 with Spot , the robot dog now known to everyone. Also used by SpaceX , the robot is the company's lightest product at 25kg. The automaton, whose SDK is public on Github, is able to move easily on any type of terrain. The robot was designed for the collection of data in the field , going into accurate inspections in places difficult to access by humans. The canid can also carry loads up to 14kg and is programmable to perform various control routines. Spot is highly customizable, both through ready-made software solutions, and by modifying the SDK to integrate new sensors.

Spot, the dog-robot from Boston Dynamics. Source: Boston Dynamics
Spot, the dog-robot from Boston Dynamics. Source: Boston Dynamics

There are also robots for the automation of warehouses and assembly lines: Stretch and Pick lift and move loads, facilitating operations in various types of warehouses . The two machines can "grab" packs and place them on conveyor belts or hoists, avoiding the heaviest jobs for humans.

The Atlas article : How Boston Dynamics' humanoid robot works comes from Tech CuE | Close-up Engineering .