DARPA's Atlas robot is the basis of the Virtual Robot Challenge. I have questions why it looks like it does if it will be used for humanitarian purposes. Wouldn't a friendlier design have made more sense?
It looks like a robot toy that my son played with, and an entity you wouldn't want to meet up with in a proverbial dark alley. It's DARPA's high mobility humanoid, built by Boston Dynamics, that can handle rough terrain and hazardous situations -- read: Fukushima. There are potentially many scenarios in the industrial world where a robot like Atlas could perform.
Atlas is also the basis for this year's Virtual Robot Challenge (VRC) competitors, with a goal of adding brains to brawn, and several copies of Atlas are in the hands of such hopefuls as Worcester Polytechnic, TRACLabs, Caltech's Jet Propulsion Labs, MIT, Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, and Virginia Tech.
The goal for the competitors is to put the robot through its paces successfully in a hypothetical scenario. So far, ATLAS can walk, avoid obstacles, climb chairs, perform calisthenics, and avoid a wrecking ball attack. So, I understand the walking, climbing, negotiation part of this, but if used as indicated for humanitarian and disaster-relief purposes, why would it have to avoid a wrecking ball? Sounds more military to me -- just sayin'.
The hunk of robot is 6'2", weighs 330 lbs, and features an articulated sensor head, stereo cameras, and a laser rangefinder. Atlas is powered from an off-board electric power supply via a flexible network tether. It has 28 hydraulically actuated joints with closed-loop position and force control, an on-board real time control computer, hydraulic pump and thermal management, and the requisite two arms and two legs. The head-mounted sensor package has LIDAR, perception algorithms, dedicated sensor electronics, and stereo sensors.
I know that if I worked in a facility that crumbled in a natural disaster, and humans were unable -- because of the hazardous nature of the environment -- to save me, I would want Atlas there as fast as possible. At the same time, the thought of a bunch of Atlas types controlled by the Pentagon is too close to a sci-fi plot for me. Doesn't it seem that a human form might not be the best one to rescue people? Why wouldn't it look more like a Mars rover? Two legs seem like a much weaker proposal than a half-man, half-tank version. What do you think?