Do you remember the time, a few years back, when Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot took a pratfall on stage during a public demo, after tripping over a stage light? Such embarrassing relics of a bygone age are a world away from the kind of dazzling feats that everyone’s favorite humanoid robot is capable of in 2018. Like a mid-life crisis dedicated to getting rid of the dad bod, Atlas has hit the gym with a vengeance — and now it’s apparently doing all kinds of crazy stunts. First there was the picture perfect backflip. Now, in its latest YouTube video, Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot pulls off some frankly astonishing parkour stunts.
Parkour, for those unfamiliar, is a training discipline which grew out of military obstacle course training. The goal is to move rapidly through complex environments, usually urban cityscapes, using the scenery in unusual and innovative ways. Remember that jaw-dropping scene from the start of Casino Royale? That, basically. But now with 100 percent more robot.
“Atlas does parkour,” the video description reads. “The control software uses the whole body including legs, arms and torso, to marshal the energy and strength for jumping over the log and leaping up the steps without breaking its pace … Atlas uses computer vision to locate itself with respect to visible markers on the approach to hit the terrain accurately.”
Considering that, not all that long ago, robots struggled to move in a straight line down a corridor, seeing one leap effortlessly between steps with a height of 40 cm is pretty darn incredible. While this is just one demo showcase, the technology exhibited here could also be enormously useful in the real world, where the ability to see environments in terms of how they can help with locomotion (for instance, a wall that could also be a platform) would make robots such as this useful in a range of scenarios. Imagine being rescued from a disaster zone by a robot doing parkour stunts. Heck, it could even be worth it for that alone!
For more on the development of the Atlas robot from its 2013 through today, check out our timeline article here.