DARPA's Atlas Robot Could Save Your Life

In the field of robotics - despite the best efforts of thousands of innovators - our imagination still outstrips reality. We want (or fear) walking androids with posh, clipped British accents. What we actually get is something a bit more humble.

Well not for long - maybe.

DARPA - the research wing of the American military - has been developing multi-use robots of all kinds for decades, and has now unveiled its most advanced droid yet.

The new version of the Atlas robot, designed by DARPA and the Google-owned Boston Dynamics, is 75% new according to a press release.

The good news? It might look terrifying, but it could save your life one day.

The new Atlas features a 3.7kWh lithium-ion battery system, meaning it can plausibly run for one hour, wirelessly. It stands 6 foot 2 inches tall, weighs 345 pounds and can walk and use tools.

It also features:

  • Repositioned shoulders and arms
  • New electrically actuated lower arms "will increase strength and dexterity and improve force sensing".
  • An extra degree of freedom in the wrist means the robot will be able to turn a door handle simply by rotating its wrist
  • Three onboard perception computers are used for perception and task planning, and a wireless router in the head enables untethered communication.
  • Re-sized actuators in the hip, knee, and back give the robot greater strength.
  • A wireless emergency stop allows for safe operation.
  • Much quieter

The robot is intended as a physical platform, on which competing teams will run software designed to allow the robot to aid in disaster response.

A total of $3.5 million in prizes will be offered to the teams in DARPA's Robotic's Challenge, including one funded by the European Union.

“During periodic reviews with the DRC teams we’re already seeing them perform at a much higher level than they were last year. We’re excited to see how much further they can push the technology,” said Gill Pratt, program manager for the competition.

“As any team will tell you, we’re not making it easy. DARPA has been consulting with our international partners to decide on what steps we need to take to speed the development of disaster-response robots, and the DRC Finals will reflect those realities.”

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