DARPA Unveils ATLAS – The Super Humanoid Robot

The ATLAS robot
Last week DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), unveiled ATLAS to the 6 teams that will compete in the next DARPA Robotics Challenge this December. During the challenge the advanced humanoid robot will have to perform a series of tasks similar to what might be required in a disaster response scenario.
ATLAS developed by Boston Dynamics (as well as Carnegie Robotic) is an extremely capable humanoid robot – developed to resemble a full grown human with 2 arms, 2 legs, torso and head. ATLAS weight 330 lbs (150 kg) including its power pack (the robot requires 480V 3-phase at 15 kW to operate), it stands tall at 74” (1.88 m) and uses a cable interface to communicate using a 10 Gbps Fiber Optic Ethernet.
ATLAS has 28 hydraulically actuated joints with closed-loop position and force control, on-board hydraulic pump and thermal management system as well as crash protection features, a special modular wrists which can accept 3’rd party robotic hands (it currently has two hands one provided by iRobot and one by Sandia National Labs) and a whole range of sensors including LIDAR, stereo sensors, dedicated sensor electronics and sophisticated perception algorithms.

The six teams currently competing on the Robotics Challenge are:

  • Carnegie Mellon University, National Robotics Engineering Center – CHIMP
  • Drexel University – Hubo
  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory – RoboSimian
  • NASA Johnson Space Center – Valkyrie
  • SCHAFT Inc.
  • Virginia Tech – T.H.O.R.

Every team received a ATLAS robot and they will have until December this year to program it to the best of their abilities to pass a very complex tasks no other robot preformed to date including driving a utility vehicle across a 250 feet track with obstacles, travel by foot on a complex terrain course, removing debris blocking an entry to a room, opening a door and entering the room, climbing a ladder, breaking through a wall using cutting tools and locating and closing a valve before finally connecting a fire hose.

All these tasks seems way to complicated for any robot we have seen to date. An indeed DARPA has a history of pushing the limits on its challenges. During the first DARPA challenge launched in 2004 the robotic cars which participated faced a different daunting task of crossing a desert – and indeed out of the 150 mile course, the “winner” – Carnegie Mellon University’s Red Team and car Sandstorm was only able to complete a small fraction – 7.3 miles. However in the next 2 DARPA challenges in 2005 and 2007 many robots were able to finish the course (although both  challenges where far shorter and had other degrees of difficulty built into them). It is possible that DARPA is looking to create an unrealistic first humanoid challenge in order to push the robotic industry forward just like it did a decade ago.
Interestingly, according to DARPA program manager Gill Pratt as it stands right now “Atlas is roughly at the competence level of a 1-year-old child.” Pratt estimated that after the teams will finish working on the ATLAS they will bring it up to about the level of a 2-year old human – will this be enough to complete the complex tasks set forth by DARPA in the new competition – we will have to wait until December to see.
You can read more about ATLAS on DARPA’s website as well as on the DARPA robotics challenge website.

Meet ATLAS – DARPA’s new Robot
Meet the Teams: DARPA Robotics Challenge Track A Robots