Meet ATLAS, the next generation of stompy, killy humanoid robot

ATLASoston Dynamics and the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have a successor to their famous Petman humanoid robot, and have unveiled it in a bold and terrifying new video, embedded below. At six-foot-two in height and weighing in at 330 pounds, ATLAS will make for an imposing addition to any dinner party — but that’s ostensibly where it is designed to function. As you read on, just remember: the stomping death-bot is designed purely to compete in a robot challenge, and not at all to do what stomping death-bots are clearly designed to do.

ATLAS’ first mission will be to act as surrogate to seven different suites of behavior and control software. Each comes from one of the seven teams that moved on from DARPA’s Virtual Robotics Challenge last month. Thanks to an incredibly streamlined giant military robot middleware solution, called the DRC Simulator, each of these software solutions will transfer to the ATLAS hardware with only minimal fine tuning. Each will get a shot at running ATLAS through a series of tests at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), which asks teams to make humanoid robots perform roughly humanoid tasks. In particular, it will ask teams to get ATLAS to respond to a number of disaster scenarios.

The robot’s roughly humanoid shape is apparent enough, but under the hood ATLAS is carrying a robust processing unit and 28 hydraulically actuated joints. The head contains both LIDAR and stereo sensors for keeping track of its surroundings, and it even has two different sets of hands, one developed by iRobot, the other by Sandia National Labs. When given a cool enough project, it seems just about anybody is willing to help out with military technology development.

DARPA themselves point out that, as advanced as ATLAS is, it is ultimately just a mechanical shell for the real innovation: the series of artificial brains and nerves that control the movement and behavior of the body. (Could this be a swipe at Boston Dynamics, which is primarily responsible for ATLAS on the hardware side?) The winning team from the DRC tests will take home possibly the most exciting prize in the history of the whole world: ATLAS itself, along with a minor secondary gift in the form of enormous amounts of funding to keep developing for the robot and its inevitable successors.

The seven teams competing for this prize, two of which come from NASA, are previewed below. Who do you think will win?

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