James Cameron’s warnings remain unheeded as the Pentagon unveils a new 6’1″-tall humanoid robot capable of jumping and climbing stairs.
That video embedded at top-right debuted this morning as the public’s first look at Atlas, a new robot developed by the futurist tech geeks at Boston Dynamics and funded by the Pentagon. It stands 6’1″ tall, is more or less human-shaped (assuming we’re talking about humans without heads), and is extremely agile. The ‘bot weighs in at a relatively light 330 pounds which, combined with a level of mobility that sees the machine able to climb stairs and leap somewhat gracefully into the air, allows it to traverse extremely rough terrain. Theoretically Atlas should be able to go anywhere a person can while lugging heavy loads and never suffering the sort of fatigue stress a mammalian body will inevitably encounter.
“Atlas is a high mobility, humanoid robot designed to negotiate outdoor, rough terrain,” reads the official description from Boston Dynamics. “Atlas can walk bipedally, leaving the upper limbs free to lift, carry, and manipulate the environment. In extremely challenging terrain, Atlas is strong and co-ordinated enough to climb using hands and feet, to pick its way through congested spaces.”
Atlas also has dual vision modes, utilizing both standard stereoscopic vision (the sort of sight that you’re most familiar with) as well as laser-based vision. Researchers hope that these accoutrements will aid Atlas in its potential future role as a search and rescue robot for areas of the planet that would otherwise be inhospitable to living people, such as collapsed buildings or areas filled with toxic gas.
Now that Atlas has made its public debut, the Pentagon is sending six copies of the machine to various tech-focused universities around the US who will then compete in a series of competitions to see who can push Atlas the furthest. These challenges will include comprehensive tests of Atlas’s abilities, and the ‘bot will be tasked with such feats as “crossing a field of rubble” and “driving a vehicle” – exactly the sort of thing Atlas might encounter in a rescue situation.
Of course, this being a government project in an era where George Orwell’s visions of an omnipresent police state appear more and more realistic, it’s not difficult to imagine the offspring of the Atlas project treading across the battlefield, gun in hand, spraying bullets at America’s enemies in countries too poor to fund multi-million dollar robotic soldiers. Neither Boston Dynamics nor the Pentagon has revealed any plans to push Atlas into this kind of service, but if we keep churning out humanoid robots with increasingly impressive feature sets, it seems inevitable that at some point someone will decide to arm the things.
(Edit: Originally this story claimed that Atlas weighs only 33 pounds. That’s both silly and a typo. It has since been amended.)