Advances in robotics are a constant, but every now and then the ingenuity of researchers crystallizes in lifelike maneuvers that are as awe-inspiring as they are terrifying. Here we take a look at seven recent examples that will do the sleeping habits of those fearing a robotic apocalypse more harm than good.
It won't surprise the folks who follow this space closely that the handiwork of Boston Dynamics features quite prominently here. But also making appearances are machines from MIT a high-flying robotic trapeze artist and a humanoid delivery man. Let's dive in, while we still can.
MIT's robotic Cheetah makes the leap
First out of the blocks is MIT's bounding robotic Cheetah, which in 2015 gained the ability to detect and leap over obstacles in its path. The quadrupedal robot uses an onboard LIDAR system to monitor laser reflections and map its terrain, and then an algorithm to calculate the force needed from its electric motors and clear hurdles. It can even adjust its stride if need be. Skip to 1:00 below to see it clear a series of obstacles. Might be time to build a taller front fence.
MIT's Mini Cheetah does backflips
MIT's Mini Cheetah might be the smaller sidekick to the robot described above, but it has a few tricks up its sleeve that could see it steal a share of the spotlight. Among those are gracefully executed backflips, which the researchers say made it the first four-legged robot to perform such a feat when it was first shown off in March this year. Check it out at the very start of the video below.
When robots do gymnastics
If you think the balance demonstrated by the four-legged Mini Cheetah is impressive, then check out the antics of this two-legged humanoid. Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot had previously shown off some impressive capabilities, but it really got our attention in 2017 with a newfound ability to nail a perfect backflip. Check it out below. 10/10.
Run for your life
While acrobatics are cool, they perhaps don't instill the fear that a robot charging mercilessly after an unsighted victim might. This video from May last year shows the Atlas robot taking a casual jog through the woods, showing an ability to navigate uneven terrain and jump over logs. Is he in pursuit of fitness goals or blood? You decide.
Can I get a tow?
Who needs to call a truck when you've got 10 of Boston Dynamics SpotMinis on the job? In April this year, the company marked its move into commercial operations by showing a herd of its robotic dogs pulling a truck across a parking lot. An impressive show of power and robotic collaboration. Team work makes the dream work.
Being a stuntman is dangerous business, so why not employ a robot to do the job instead? This is the thinking behind Disney's Stuntronics humanoid robot. It can be flicked into the air like a trapeze artist and use a suite of sensors to tuck, roll, complete a couple of backflips before unfurling for the landing. It can also strike a superhero-like pose through the air. See its eerily human-like acrobatics below.
The last legs
There's a lot happening in the world of self-driving vehicles, including how they can streamline operations for courier companies. But what if every inch of the delivery process could be automated? This is the thinking behind a recent project from Ford and Agility Robotics, which led to a two-legged robot called Digit that would travel to a customer's address in a self-driving vehicle before hopping out to drop the package at the door. It can navigate obstacles, walk up and down stairs and even maintain balance if something bumps into it.
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