Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot Can Now Pick Up and Throw Things

We’ve seen the Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics dance, do backflips, and even perform parkour. But now it’s received a new skill: the ability to pick up and throw objects. 

In a new video(Opens in a new window), the Atlas robot is seen carrying a tool bag up some scaffolding and then throwing it to a human construction worker who’s standing on a simulated construction site. The demonstration requires Atlas to use its sensors and a large variety of capabilities to navigate the site while remaining balanced. 

In the video, the Atlas robot first picks up and places a large wooden plank to act as a bridge over the construction site. The machine then proceeds to walk over the plank after picking up the tool bag with its two hands. 

Atlas then spins and tosses the tool bag at the human construction worker’s feet. After that, the machine pushes a wooden block out of its way, and ends the demonstration by performing a 540-degree flip to jump off the construction site.  

Boston Dynamics says the demo shows how Atlas could help human construction workers in practical ways. “We’re layering on new capabilities,” says(Opens in a new window) Atlas controls lead Ben Stephens. “Parkour and dancing were interesting examples of pretty extreme locomotion, and now we’re trying to build upon that research to also do meaningful manipulation.”

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Of course, the same video underscores how Atlas could one day replace human workers (or possibly lead a robot uprising against mankind). For now, the Atlas robot remains a research project, unlike Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot, which is available for sale. With Atlas, the goal is to eventually create a “go anywhere, do anything” machine capable of performing any human task.  

“Manipulation is a broad category, and we still have a lot of work to do,” says Scott Kuindersma, Atlas team lead. “But this gives a sneak peek at where the field is going. This is the future of robotics.”

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