Shock video shows Atlas robot training for automotive work
It's a shock video because Atlas is unboxing and racking shocks – sorry about that. But it's also a shock because Atlas has always been a humanoid robotics research platform, not a commercial product – and this new video has us wondering.
The work of building cars is perfect for robotic automation – large volumes, heavy parts, high potential for human injury, high precision and reliability requirements – and indeed, there are already a ton of job-specific robots involved in the manufacturing and assembly lines.
But there are also still a lot of jobs that look much more random and disorganized – and that's where humanoid robots seek to step in. Obviously, that'll be one of the early applications for Tesla's Optimus robot, and we've seen recently that Figure is pursuing a similar path with BMW.
We didn't expect to see Atlas rolling up its sleeves on this kind of work, and yet here we are.
We've seen Atlas flirting with developing its worksite chops before as a building-site dogsbody, throwing toolbags around and the like, but Boston Dynamics has otherwise left the real-world work situations to its more commercially focused non-humanoids: Spot the robot dog, and the bizarre rolling, balancing Stretch robot.
But the kind of work it's doing in the video above – which we expect it's doing autonomously, although we can't yet confirm – fits in very nicely with the "pick things up, move them around" early commercial use case that companies like Figure believe will lead to multi-billion dollar revenue streams.
Ever since Korean auto giant Hyundai bought Boston Dynamics in 2020, we've wondered whether Atlas might be headed in a more commercial direction. It's clearly the most advanced humanoid robot ever built as things stand. Its electrically powered, hydraulically-actuated joints give it the unrivaled explosive power that makes it such a gymnastic athlete, and as well as handling a broad range of chaotic and shifting terrains, it's also developed a certain sort of grace to its movement that makes Optimus and the other newcomers look like they're walking around with full diapers.
This new video certainly adds fuel to that fire. But for all the things Atlas is, there's one that it certainly isn't. It's not designed for streamlined mass manufacturing as a commercial product. It's an extraordinary testbed and has led the world for more than a decade, but if Boston is really going to get serious about putting humanoids to work at scale, we'd expect to see another design altogether – and probably one that's not nearly as athletic.
Source: Boston Dynamics