Boston Dynamics has been teaching its old bots new tricks – Atlas, its humanoid robot that walks on two legs, can now do a surprisingly elegant gymnastics routine, tumbling into a handstand, followed by cartwheels and including a jump twist. This level of athleticism (can a robot express ‘athleticism’?) is incredibly impressive, given that this is a 330 lb robot that could “barely walk” in 2013 when the prototype was first developed.
Atlas’ movement in this routine is at once incredibly human-like, and also something beyond human – especially when it turtles in preparation for its first somersault. This isn’t the first time that Atlas has displayed parkour skills, but Boston Dynamics says that it is using new techniques to make the process of programming these maneuvers much easier, by translating descriptions of the moved involved into motions that the robot can actually manage given its mobility limitations automatically using a newly developed optimization algorithm.
This allows them to create new routines much faster than was possible previously, and it’s able to complete the routine as intended around 80 percent of the time – pretty good odds, even for a human gymnast.