Today's Robot News

It's Friday, which of course means we have to talk robots. Yesterday, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) unveiled Atlas, a humanoid robot it's using as part of its robotics challenge, in which teams of engineers will compete to write software that best employs Atlas' human-eradicating capabilities. Kidding, of course—they'll actually be trying to perform a series of tasks that might be needed in a disaster scenario.

Frankly, I've always been skeptical about the potential of humanoid robots. Sure, it helps us to relate to them if they look like us, but the human body has a lot of limitations. For instance, hands are great, but should a robot have only two? Why not four or six, or eleven? The more hands, the more things you can do with them. And legs are extremely useful, especially for navigating uneven environments where wheels won't work well, like the rubble of a building that has fallen over, or the stairs in your house. But are two legs better than three or four?

When you see the specialized robots we've put to work, the design of their bodies is dictated by the tasks they have to perform (it would be crazy to make a Roomba shaped like a human). As the engineers improve on what they've done so far—and we get more processing power and batteries with more power in smaller packages—we'll no doubt want both specialized robots and those that can perform lots of different tasks. It'll be interesting to see if we end up converging on a robot design that mimics the advantages of the human body, but builds on it in ways we haven't thought of yet.

Here's the video of Atlas, who so far seems to do a pretty good job staying upright when knocked with a heavy ball and walking around 2 x 4s. Not a bad start.

Comments

It is an interesting robot! I guess that it is the state of the art! And with some minor upgrades you can make it almost perfect. yacht charter

I have to disagree. We have built a surprising amount of the environment to fit our shape and deal with our capabilities (door sizes, path widths, stairs, table heights). I think when you take all of these things into account, when technology permits it we will make robots that are around 5-8 feet tall, around 2 feet in diameter, capable of stepping up, etc...). While these thing don't necessitate an exact human form, I think that it will be something that is at least similar to a stick figure human and roughly close to use in dimension. It might have an extra set of legs or arms, but probably not too much because of the size restrictions. The core idea is that we want a robot that can at least go everywhere we can, and we have tailored our spaces much more then you might think.

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