AMS Spring 2023

3D Printed Robot Goes for an Unnerving Jog in the Park

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Many of us are sharing our living spaces with robots these days, whether they’re named Siri, Alexa, or DJ Roomba. We’re not quite at the Jetsons level yet, though, of having humanoid robot housekeepers seeing to our every need – but we’re getting close, and a look at Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot can show you just how close. The Atlas project has been in progress for a few years, with 3D printing playing a large role in the robot’s development, and recently the company released a video of the humanoid robot jogging through a park, jumping over logs, and looking eerily human.

It’s a little bit terrifying – not something you’d necessarily want to see if you were out for a casual run in the park yourself. The 1.5-meter-tall robot gets going at a pretty good clip, and it runs smoothly, not clunkily or lumbering like an old-school movie robot. If it was coming after you, you’d be right to be very concerned indeed. Its only weak point does seem to be obstacles – it can jump over logs, but it has to stop, gather itself, and spring with both legs, slowing it down enough for its prey to possibly make an escape. So remember that – if Atlas is after you any time in the near future, head for terrain littered with obstacles. You may have a chance.

Horrifyingly – I mean, impressively, Atlas can also keep its balance after being pushed and can get up again after falling down. Sweet dreams! I don’t mean to imply that Atlas is going to kill us all…but that’s been the general first impression of most of the public, judging from the comments on the YouTube video.

“It can murder hundreds of people for money,” one commenter declared.

“Where is the running away crowd?” another demanded.

(If you want some entertainment, read all of the comments – from claims of the Second Coming to “Hillary should have won,” they’re pretty amusing.)

Whether you’re of the belief that this is a cool invention or that it’s a sign of the apocalypse – or both – there’s no denying that 3D printing is to thank/blame for a good part of it. The technology was used to make the 75-kg Atlas compact and lightweight, with a high strength-to-weight ratio. “Compact” may not be the first word that comes to mind when you see it racing across the park, but considering its many capabilities, it’s remarkably small. It has 28 joints, LiDAR and stereo vision, and can lift 11 kg. So it may not be able to pick up a full-grown human…but hand it a laser blaster and it won’t need to.

Fears of a robot apocalypse aside, Atlas is a remarkable example of where technology has gotten us, and how 3D printing has played a role in transforming robots from bulky, clunky, heavy beasts into streamlined, lightweight, agile killing machines, erm, creations that can run and jump as well as or better than some humans. Atlas is still a work in progress, which is both exciting and terrifying, as are Boston Dynamics’ animal robots (that’s right, Atlas has a dog… which served as inspiration for a recent episode of Black Mirror, but a dog!). It may not be long until we have helpful robot housekeepers…or pitiless overlords. Only time will tell.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Images: Boston Dynamics]

 

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