ATLAS, The Pentagon's Humanoid Robot, Just Got A Major Upgrade

Tremble at the sight of the new and improved ATLAS. Redesigned for DARPA by Boston Dynamics, this robot is now stronger, more energy efficient, more dextrous, and quieter than its clunky predecessor. And best of all, it no longer requires a safety tether.


It's called ATLAS Unplugged, and it's the new standard that'll be used by the developers participating in the DARPA Robotics Challenge that will be held in Pamona, California from June 5-6, 2015.

Here's what the previous version looked like:

Illustration for article titled ATLAS, The Pentagons Humanoid Robot, Just Got A Major Upgrade

And here's more of the new one:

Illustration for article titled ATLAS, The Pentagons Humanoid Robot, Just Got A Major Upgrade

About 75% of ATLAS has been rebuilt. Basically everything from the knees up (only the lower legs and feet were retained). The 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters) and 345 pound (156.6 kg) robot now features a new battery pack which it wears on its back, allowing for onboard energy storage and improved efficiency. The humanoid biped can now operate entirely on battery power.

As noted, ATLAS Unplugged no longer requires a safety tether or a safety line. Competitors will not be allowed to use those props during the Challenge, because DARPA has officially cut the cord.


Here are the new hurdles that the teams will face in the finals:

  • Robots will have to operate completely without wires—they may not be connected to power cords, fall arrestors, or wired communications tethers. Teams will have to communicate with their robots over a secure wireless network.
  • Teams are not allowed any physical intervention with their robot after it begins a run. If a robot falls or gets stuck, it will have to recover and continue with the tasks without any hands-on assistance. If a robot cannot sustain and recover from a fall, its run will end.
  • DARPA will intentionally degrade communications between the robots and human operators working at a distance. The idea is to replicate the conditions these robots would face going into a disaster zone. Spotty communication will force the robots to make some progress on their own during communications blackouts.

DARPA goes over some of ATLAS's new upgrades:

  • Repositioned shoulders and arms allow for increased workspace in front of the robot and let the robot view its hands in motion, thus providing additional sensor feedback to the operator.
  • New electrically actuated lower arms will increase strength and dexterity and improve force sensing.
  • The addition of an extra degree of freedom in the wrist means the robot will be able to turn a door handle simply by rotating its wrist as opposed to moving its entire arm.
  • Three onboard perception computers are used for perception and task planning, and a wireless router in the head enables untethered communication.
  • Re-sized actuators in the hip, knee, and back give the robot greater strength.
  • A wireless emergency stop allows for safe operation.
  • As a result of the new pump, Atlas is much, much quieter than before

In addition to being stronger (for increased stability), ATLAS is quieter (so developers don't need to wear hearing protection), and has greater dexterity. It's arms have been flipped over, allowing the users to have more workspace to see what the robot is doing.


The seven DRC teams will receive their new versions of ATLAS later this month. And as noted by DARPA:

Given their identical hardware, the Atlas teams will have to differentiate themselves through software, control interfaces, and competition strategy. Teams will have a few options on the selection of tasks they choose to attempt and the order they do them—and must manage time and battery life during their runs—but DARPA expects that the top-placing teams will complete all of the tasks.


Cannot wait to see how this version fares in the upcoming challenge.


Images: DARPA


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Excellent. My dream of robo Village People doing the YMCA is almost here.