Babe, wake up. A new Boston Dynamics video just landed

Androids dream of object properties, and the forces they’re up against, while also doing backflips.

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Imagine this: You’re working away up in the scaffolding, gleefully banging a random thing with your hammer to make it look like you’re working, only to realise you’ve forgotten your entire tool bag. How are you going to pretend to do any work now? Not to worry. Just flip out your phone, tap a couple of buttons in your robo-servant app, and your on-site robot helper will deliver it right to your feet.

This is the future. A place where artificially intelligent robots not only help around the work site, but do so while amusing us with hardcore parkour moves. In fact, Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot has recently been showing off just the kind of energetic skills we like to see in the workplace.

In a behind the scenes video (opens in new tab), Atlas team lead Scott Kuindersma notes that the robot’s latest exploits are meant to exemplify an “expansion of the research that we’re doing on Atlas.” 

Now, rather than simply performing a set of actions around static objects—such as the assault course Atlas recently mastered after failing at parkour (opens in new tab) time and time again—the robot is learning to better perceive and manipulate the environment around him. 

When we interact with the world, we have been in it long enough to automatically adjust how much force we exert on a thrown object, or put into a jump, but as a mere babe in the world, Atlas has to learn these things as he goes. 

“The robot has to be able to think about the properties of objects. Their shape. Their mass properties. And as it’s manipulating these objects, the constraints that exist between the robot and the object. The forces that exist. And it has to have a control system that’s able to balance what may be competing objectives related to stability or the manipulation task at hand.”

In the case of deformable objects (opens in new tab), this is even more difficult a task than you might imagine, though Atlas seems to be getting the hang of flinging bags around so perhaps massage-programmed elder care robots aren’t too far behind.

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I’m sure the would-be builders’ apprentices are all wincing right now, worried about the displacement that’s already occurring across the art space, just as it is in the field of manual labour. And look, no one wants to be replaced by a robot. I get it. That fear is looming over a good portion of the population right now, myself included as Open AI Chat GPT grows smarter by the day. 

Whatever stage the robot takeover is at where your line of work is concerned, the robot legions won’t be dispersing any time soon. Might as well embrace it, I suppose. Who’s to question our overlords, especially when the robots at Boston Dynamics can boogie (opens in new tab) better than most of us.

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