Presenting ‘Atlas Unplugged’: Boston Dynamics’ hero humanoid gets a makeover

(Photo: DARPA)
(Photo: DARPA)

Just in time for a big robotics showdown in June, Atlas, the rescue-robot-in-training and Boston Dynamics darling, has gotten a makeover.

Atlas has already impressed us with its balancing skills, and for simply being the humanoid sibling of Boston Dynamics’ other YouTube superstar, Big Dog. But Atlas’s other claim to fame is that it’s  the standard-issue humanoid that local robotics company Boston Dynamics supplied to seven finalists in the DARPA’s Robotics Challenge, a contest hosted by the agency to test the mettle (and, ahem, metal) of future mechanized rescue robots.

After elimination rounds in December 2013, finalist teams are due to compete in the last round of the challenge this summer.

“It is a big change,” said Matt DeDonato, the leader of the team representing Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “It’s got a white cover instead of the dark black look which makes it look more friendly, a little less intimidating.”

DARPA claims the new model — “Atlas Unplugged” — is lighter, stronger, and quieter. Besides its lower legs and feet, 75 percent of the robot’s 6-foot-2, 345-pound frame has been revamped.

But the biggest difference is that Atlas will be wireless, untethered to a power source or communication system. This means teams will now have the additional challenge of having to get the most out of the lithium-ion battery Atlas will carry on its back on game day.

Atlas will also walk without its safety cable for the first time. “These robots now are going to be able to fall down and get back up,” DeDonato said. “We have to write all that code — be able to safely fall, roll onto its stomach and get back back on its feet.”

DARPA announced Tuesday that they’d increased the award money for teams. In addition to the $2 million set aside for the grand prize winner, the runner-up and third place teams will get $1 million and $500,000 respectively.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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