Upgraded Atlas robot still no disaster superman

The unplugged version of the experimental humanoid can work for one hour of 'mixed mission' operation

With its upgrade, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's ATLAS robot has 75 percent new parts, better energy efficiency and wireless communication.

With its upgrade, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's ATLAS robot has 75 percent new parts, better energy efficiency and wireless communication.

The U.S. military has upgraded its humanoid rescue robot, but the improvements highlight how far the machine has to go in order be useful in disaster zones.

Sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Atlas is a bipedal platform for a robotics competition aimed a developing robots that can help humans respond to natural and man-made disasters.

While 75 percent of the humanoid robot is new, and it can now operate without the tether that powers it and protects it from falls, it is not independent.

A bulky new onboard 3.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack will only give the 1.88-metre-tall, 156-kilogram hulk "the potential for one hour of 'mixed mission' operation that includes walking, standing, use of tools and other movements," according to the agency.

That's far from what would be required to tackle a real-world emergency, with countless hazards and no means to recharge batteries.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) trials were inspired by the 2011 tsunami and meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The twisted wreckage of radioactive steel and concrete presents significant navigation obstacles to more stable robots on treads, let alone those on human-like legs.

Atlas' lower legs and feet were the only things carried over from the previous version. It now has lighter materials, improved actuators to help it get up after falls and repositioned arms so that it can see its hands in motion. Its wrists can rotate by themselves, allowing it to turn doorknobs without having to use its whole arm.

The other major improvement is a variable-pressure pump that helps with energy conservation and makes the robot a lot quieter, allowing engineers to work alongside it without hearing protection. The DRC teams will have to learn how to balance the force needed for various tasks with overall battery life, the agency said.

Engineered by Boston Dynamics, the new Atlas also has three computers for processing sensor input for task planning as well as wireless communication abilities. While performing DRC tasks, it will face communication blackouts of up to one minute each and it will have to operate without human intervention.

Up to seven teams will use the new Atlas in the DRC finals, slated for early June in California. A total of US$3.5 million is to be awarded to the top three finishers in the DRC.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags roboticsDefense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Hornyak

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?