Boston Dynamics' humanoid Atlas is dead, long live the ... new commercial Atlas

If the plan was to make this all-electric droid look mildly terrifying, mission accomplished

Video Atlas, the humanoid robot that's been a centerpiece of Boston Dynamics' robot lineup for nearly a decade, has been retired. In its place is, well, Atlas - an all-electric version designed for commercial use. 

Boston Dynamics announced the retirement of the hydraulic version of Atlas (HD Atlas) in a video issued yesterday with no other explanation - only to share that the venerable, much-evolved bot was going to "kick back and relax" in retirement. 

Many eagle-eyed watchers noted how particular Boston Dynamics' wording was in the video, which specified that the hydraulic Atlas was being retired. Speculation was rampant on what was coming in its place, and now we know.

A 39-second video (see below) showing the new all-electric Atlas appeared on YouTube today, showing the robot rising from a lying position in one of the most spooky, inhuman ways possible: By folding its legs and pushing itself up on its 360-degree rotating hips. Atlas then walks toward the camera while completely rotating its head, legs and torso before spinning them all back around and trundling off screen.

Youtube Video

As one commenter noted, it stood up "like it needs an exorcism." 

Of its spooky movement, Boston Dynamics told The Register the video was meant to highlight what the new Atlas is capable of.

"We're hoping to highlight the incredible range of motion of the new machine--these kinds of movements will make tasks like moving parts around much faster and more efficient, because unlike us the robot doesn't have to waste time shuffling its feet to turn its body around," Boston Dynamics told us in an email.

"The goal is to perform useful tasks in the most efficient way possible, rather than being limited by a human range of motion."

Atlas is dead …

Atlas began life as a DARPA project back in 2009 called PETMAN, or the Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin, which was designed to test new clothing and protective gear for the US military. 

Later renamed Atlas, the tethered bot was revealed in 2013 as part of DARPA's $2m Robotics Challenge. The bot later evolved into an untethered machine, and by 2017 was doing  backflips before later being trained to do parkour.

Atlas, even its late HD model, wasn't meant for real-world applications, however. With Boston Dynamics moving in recent years toward more commercial products like Spot and Stretch, a research-restricted Atlas was unlikely to be long for this world.

… long live Atlas

"Our customers have seen success with Spot and Stretch and they are eager to tackle the next challenge with Atlas," Boston Dynamics said in announcing the new all-electric Atlas today.

"Given our track record of successful commercialization, we are confident in our plan to not just create an impressive R&D project, but to deliver a valuable solution."

Commercial sales of the new Atlas weren't discussed, but Boston Dynamics did say it'll be getting some real-world testing at parent company Hyundai's facilities.

"In addition to investing in us, the Hyundai team is building the next generation of automotive manufacturing capabilities, and it will serve as a perfect testing ground for new Atlas applications," Boston Dynamics said. "In the months and years ahead, we're excited to show what the world's most dynamic humanoid robot can really do—in the lab, in the factory, and in our lives." 

Boston Dynamics told us Hyundai and "a small group of pilot customers" will have access to Atlas next year, and that it currently doesn't have a timeline for general commercial availability.

The all-electric Atlas was designed to be "stronger, more dexterous, and more agile" than its hydraulic predecessors, but it's not immediately clear whether it'll be capable of some of the physical feats that the older model was capable of - such as backflips and parkour - that might be better suited to hydraulics than electric motors. Boston Dynamics told us it'll generally be "stronger and more capable," and that it'll share more about the bot later this year. 

Boston Dynamics also said it had made considerable progress in its software stack in recent years, and said its robots have been equipped "with new AI and machine learning tools, like reinforcement learning and computer vision to ensure they can operate and adapt efficiently to complex real-world situations."

As we as understand it, while the biz's robots can be remotely operated and/or programmed with directions by humans, the machines generally do possess some level of autonomous control that takes in their surroundings so that they can automatically balance themselves and move about as ordered.

We're told the company's Orbit centralized robot management software, which currently only supports Spot, will have Atlas and Stretch integrated into a future version as well, giving future owners the ability to remotely monitor and control an entire fleet of the things. ®

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