Boston Dynamics reveals its most astonishing humanoid robot so far – and I can’t stop watching it

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Boston Dynamics all but trade-marked jaw-dropping robot videos with its hydraulics-power Atlas robot’s dancing and parkouring videos. Now it’s upped the ante and I’m scraping my jaw off the floor again after watching the brief introduction video for its all-electric and completely redesigned Atlas robot.

The All New Atlas is Boston Dynamic’s first all-electric humanoid robot and the robotics firm claims it’s stronger and more agile than all previous iterations. What jumps out at me in the video, though, is the robot’s far more human-like body.

Where the hydraulics-based Atlas always looked charmingly like a mash-up between a line-backer and some scaffolding, the new Atlas is much more in the vein of Tesla’s Optimus, and Figure AI’s Figure 01, quickly shifting the legendary robotics company back into a pole position in the growing humanoid robotics race. What stuns here, though, is not just the robot’s looks, it’s how the New Atlas moves.

The clip starts with the new Atlas motionless and splayed out on the floor. It lifts its two legs up and rolls them back until they’re in a position no human who is not a contortionist could easily match. With both feet planted on the ground, the new Atlas rises up from the floor but with its chest, head, and legs facing away from the camera. First, the head, which has a circular glass panel for a face, spins around, and then each leg rotates at the hip to face the camera as Atlas effortlessly walks forward. Finally, the torso spins around under the head until the entire New Atlas is facing the camera.

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As Boston Dynamics notes in the release, “Atlas may resemble a human form factor, but we are equipping the robot to move in the most efficient way possible to complete a task, rather than being constrained by a human range of motion. Atlas will move in ways that exceed human capabilities.”

Giving Atlas super-human capabilities that include more strength and the ability to move in ways we can’t is all about efficiency. Humans are constrained by their physiology in ways that robots don’t have to be. We joke about people “keeping their heads on a swivel” to remain aware of their environment, but robots can literally do this.

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Boston Dynamics continues to focus on bi-pedal robots because it believes it’s a useful form factor in building robots to work “in a world designed for people.” It’s unclear if the shift to all-electric augurs a similar change for its popular SPOT robot (the one that looks a bit like a dog), which currently uses battery power and hydraulic actuators.

Just the start

Even though Atlas now looks more human, it’s still a long way from commercial or consumer availability. Its initial test bed, according to Boston Dynamics, will be with company investor Hyundai. “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,” notes the company in the release.

On the back end, the New Atlas will be powered by, among other things, the company’s latest AI and machine learning. When it places robots in factories, Boston Dynamics ensures that the programming knows as much about the factory as possible so the robots can work independently and safely.

The dawn of a New Atlas does mean the sunsetting of the beloved hydraulic-based robot. Boston Dynamics gave the original Atlas a sweet sendoff with a video recounting its successes and numerous gaffes. For every time that Atlas successfully completed a parkour routine, it also tipped over, face-planted, and spectacularly burst a hydraulics line. The video is a funny and loving tribute to a robot that’s captured the imaginations of millions of viewers.

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It’s a fitting way to end one chapter and launch this new one with the all-electric Atlas. Sure, we’ve only seen 30 seconds of movement, but I’m sure we’ll soon see this more personable robot dancing with SPOT, back-flipping off ledges, and parkouring its way into our hearts.

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