Boston Dynamics has released a new video of its humanoid robot Atlas demonstrating its newfound ability to perform a backflip. In the video, the machine jumps onto a small podium, skillfully hops, turns 180 degrees, and then performs a smooth backward somersault and lands on the ground.
Atlas has come a long way in recent years. When it was first unveiled, it was able to walk in a relatively human-like manner. Subsequent updates have made it more capable, especially when navigating uneven surfaces.
Boston Dynamics recently unveiled the latest iteration of the SpotMini, a quadrupedal robot that's capable of bounding around at serious speeds with a life-like manner. Having four legs as opposed to two makes it easier for this machine to walk around uninhibited by terrain, but a more humanoid design has other advantages.
Many of the spaces in which a robot like Atlas might be deployed are designed with humans in mind. The Atlas could potentially climb ladders and stairs, whereas a SpotMini wouldn't be able to. Performing a backflip might not be the most practical form of movement in its arsenal, but it's indicative of the wide range of motions that the robot is able to carry out without its balance failing.
There are still some major hurdles for humanoid robots like Atlas to overcome. For one, battery life is a concern, because its lower limbs are constantly working to balance its heavy upper body. Imitating precise motion, like the way individual fingers on a hand move to grip and manipulate objects, is also a big challenge.
Still, Boston Dynamics is pushing the capabilities of bipedal and quadrupedal robots forward. As these machines become a more normal part of everyday life, these advances will continue to be increasingly useful.