In 1984, millions of moviegoers watched in horror as the Terminator, a cyborg assassin disguised as a human, traveled back in time from 2029 to kill Sarah Connor. Connor, of course, was mother to John Connor, future champion of the human race in the fight against total annihilation at the hands of self-aware robots and computers. This February, their fears may be rekindled.
A Google-owned engineering company, Boston Dynamics, released a video on Feb. 23 displaying the unbelievable advances made in their humanoid Atlas robot. This next generation of the Atlas is incredibly lifelike, opening and walking through doors, waltzing through a snowy field and lifting a 10-pound box. All of these actions involved the robot working from an upright, bipedal position.
The most impressive of the newest model’s features is the robot’s astonishing ability to correct poor balance and variable disturbance in its environment. In the video, a few of Boston Dynamic’s employees torment the mechanical being with a hockey stick, thrusting it back and forth with sharp jabs. After one assault, the robot catches a “toe” and topples forward. Yet with what can best be described as a pushup, the robot pushes its torso upward so that it can rest on its knees before ultimately rocking back into an upright position.
What is Boston Dynamics?
Boston Dynamics is an engineering and robotics design company, formerly best known for the development of BigDog, a quadruped robot designed to conquer all terrains, even walking up and down steep grades. Like this new generation of the Atlas robot, BigDog had an uncanny ability to stay upright despite environmental interference. Founded in 1992, the company is a spinoff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where founder Marc Raibert and his team began to develop robots that maneuvered like animals.
Google purchased Boston Dynamics in 2013 and is working to develop technology for the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
What else have they made?
To date, Boston Dynamics boasts nine robots in various stages of development. Aside from the BigDog and Atlas, the company has also manufactured a robot named RiSE that can climb surfaces of all curvatures; SandFlea, an RC car in appearance that can jump 30 feet into the air to avoid obstacles; The Cheetah, a robot that can run more than 29 miles per hour and PETMAN, a humanoid robot used to test how much stress soldiers put on their protective equipment in real combat scenarios.
What lies ahead?
While the company’s major focus is innovation for military use, Google acquired seven other robotics companies in 2013. According to a 2013 New York Times article by John Markoff, Google will soon target enterprise customers and intends to offer robots that are applied to manufacturing and retail ventures.