Boston Dynamics takes big jump with two-legged Handle robot

Robot can jump, roll down stairs and a snowy hill without its losing balance

Robotics company Boston Dynamics has built a two-legged, wheeled robot that can roll down a flight of stairs and jump on and off a table, all while maintaining its balance and speed.

Handle, a 6-foot, 5-inch tall robot, can travel at 9 mph and jump four feet, according to Boston Dynamics, a Alphabet-owned company, which posted a video of the robot on YouTube.

With 10 actuated joints, the robot has a range of 15 miles on one battery charge.

What has attracted attention to the Handle video, which was posted on Monday and had more than 1.5 million views by Tuesday afternoon, is the robot's ability to balance itself while moving, jumping and even having one leg roll up a ramp while the other leg rolls across the floor beside it.

"Handle uses many of the same dynamics, balance and mobile manipulation principles found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only about 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex," Boston Dynamics said in the video. "Wheels are efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere."

Boston Dynamics did not respond to a request for comment.

A few years ago, the company's two-legged Atlas humanoid robots were used by several robotics teams to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

While some robots were able to open and walk through doors, climb stairs and walk over rubble, the ones that succeeded were often shaky and struggled to balance.

Programming the ability to balance into a two-legged robot is a challenging task, and Boston Dynamics has taken a huge step in overcoming this obstacle, said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "First, it's on two limbs, which is harder than four. Wheels aren't necessarily easier than walking, and I'm impressed by the speed and nimble movement even when going down the stairs or across uneven or even slippery terrain."

The headless robot has two arms that are connected to the machine's hip area. The arms extend in back and are able to pick up and carry as much as 100 pounds.

With that ability, the robot could be used to deliver packages to customer's homes or within an enterprise, Moorhead said.

"I could see enterprises using this to deliver mail or even packages in an office environment and even moving parts around in a space-constrained environment like a factory," he added.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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