Atlas: The Outdoorsy Robot with Humanoid Features

That’s not Bigfoot. It’s Boston Dynamics’ brand-new robot, Atlas, the awe-inspiring yet subtly creepy humanoid robot. Electrically powered and hydraulically activated, Atlas is a designed to traverse rough, outdoor terrain. Atlas has plenty of human-like features, including sensate hands that allow him to use tools that are designed for humans, plus a 28-degree rotating torso and appendages that give him the dexterity required to lift, carry and manipulate items in his environment.

In the recent video put out by Boston Dynamics, Atlas lets himself out of the lab and takes a hike through a snowy, winter terrain, where he — rather unsteadily — walks about a hilly landscape. He then goes back inside to lift two 10-pound boxes onto storage shelves and gets poked and manipulated by an engineer wielding a hockey stick. Atlas remains unfazed throughout the interaction and stays focused on completing his job. Seems more robotic than humanoid to us.

With all the sci-fi and futuristic novels out there, Atlas may not seem that impressive. But his purpose-built development allows him to perform tasks such as drive utility vehicles, clear out blocked entryways and locate and fix a valve on a leaky pipe. He’s smart too. He can use human tools and open doors. When he falls, he gets back up. Atlas is cited as one of the most striking examples of how robots are evolving to better traverse through a human-built and natural physical world.

Boston Dynamics is a subsidiary of Google, so it’s no surprise that they’re leading the pack when it comes to robotics. But Google announced earlier this year that they planned to distance itself from the unit and put it up for sale, with Toyota being a likely potential buyer. Dynamics has developed robotic, rough-terrain dogs and the world’s fastest legged robot, a robotic cheetah that can travel at over 29 MPH. Atlas joins Hanson Robotics’ human-eyed Sophia as one of this year’s most fascinating robots.