Introducing ATLAS, DARPA’s most advanced robot

Let's get ready to rescue
July 12, 2013

DARPA’s Atlas robot. You got a problem with that? Talk to the (four) hands. (Credit: DARPA)

He stands at 6′ 2, 330 pounds. His name: ATLAS — possibly the most advanced humanoid robot every built.

Move over Petman. The mighty ATLAS, Boston Dynamics‘ new robot, sports an on-board real-time control computer, 28 hydraulically actuated joints, two sets of hands, and a sensor head with LIDAR (measures distance with a laser, as in Google’s self-driving car) and stereo vision systems.

Now it’s time give him a brain.

On Monday, July 8, the seven competing teams that progressed from DARPA’s Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC) arrived at the headquarters of Boston Dynamics in Waltham, Mass. to get started.

Their mission: build the software, and the actions of a human operator through a control unit, that will guide the complex suite of sensors, actuators, joints, and limbs that make up ATLAS.

Atlas will be designed to help the military perform rescue operations in situations where humans cannot survive, such as a Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which provided the inspiration for the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), according to DRC program manager Gill Pratt.

The teams have until late December 2013 to teach ATLAS the moves it will need to succeed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials.

Each version of ATLAS will have to perform a series of tasks similar to what might be required in a disaster response scenario, said Pratt.

The goal of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) is to generate groundbreaking research and development so that future robotics can perform the most hazardous activities in future disaster response operations, in tandem with their human counterparts, in order to reduce casualties, avoid further destruction, and save lives.

In June, the top six teams earned funding and an ATLAS robot from DARPA to compete in the DRC Trials in December 2013, competing for a $2 million prize (DARPA is also funding several other “Track A” teams to construct their own robot and compete in the Trials).

Thanks to the physical modeling of the DRC Simulator, the software algorithms that were successfully employed by teams in the VRC should transfer with minor tuning to the ATLAS hardware, Pratt said.

Updates for the DARPA Robotics Challenge, including task descriptions and rules for the DRC trials, will be posted on the website.