In Brief
  • Humanoid robots just got a major upgrade: they can walk!
  • A new "walking algorithm" has been developed at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) for Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot.

Stepping Out

We’ve come a step closer to those human-like, walking “droids” we all love from the Star Wars universe. A new locomotion algorithm has been developed that allows the Atlas robot to gingerly walk through rough and uneven terrain.

Most robots would need flat surfaces to traverse. This control algorithm, developed at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) for the Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics, mimics a human-like line of thinking of deliberating carefully before making a step. Atlas balances itself before stepping onto an uneven foothold.

 

 

“Our humanoid projects are focused on enabling our bipedal humanoids [to] handle rough terrain without requiring onboard sensors to build a model of the terrain,” said the developers from IHMC. “Our goal is to tackle increasingly more difficult walking challenges.”

Human Robots?

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas has been in the works for a while now under the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition funded by the US Government. The company, a subsidiary of Google, has been continuously bringing out developments to make this robot as close to the human form as possible. Particularly, they have been focusing on equipping Atlas with balance and agility, qualities that traditionally would be quite difficult for robots.

Humanoid robots, once a tale from science fiction, are slowly coming to life. Today, they’re mastering walking through rubble and keeping balance on a thin plank of wood. Tomorrow, they could be indispensable partners in our daily lives. The calculated steps that Atlas now makes could be life-saving when put to the right uses. Like in the movies, the future could have artificially intelligent healthcare providers, policemen, and more.

Today, major industries are looking into getting help from humanoid robots. NASA is starting up their Space Robotics Challenge to possibly find an automated bot partner for future missions. Aircraft tech provider Airbus has used humanoids for their manufacturing line.

It looks like we’ll head into the future with humanoid robots, and they’ll be able to keep the pace with each step, no matter the terrain…