back to article DARPA uncloaks unTerminator for $2 million robotics challenge

DARPA has unveiled a 330-pound, six-foot two-inch tall ATLAS humanoid robot designed to save the lives of its fleshy counterparts in disaster areas, and will let seven teams of developers loose on it to compete in a $2m Robotics Challenge contest in December. ATLAS robot from Boston Dynamics "Come with me if you want to live …


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  1. D 13

    I, for one,

    would welcome a Kent Brockman icon for stories like this.


    The first generation Cylon? :)

  3. Horson Wheels

    Hector, Saturn 3

    Just sayin'.

    1. tempemeaty

      Re: Hector, Saturn 3

      Thank goodness we don't have the programed human brain tissue in that thing yet. ( -.^)

      1. Black Rat
        Thumb Up

        Re: Hector, Saturn 3

        There was some interesting work being done using rat brain tissue a few years back where they taught the goo to operate a basic flight simulator. So as concept it's do-able, just remember to use the one in the jar marked 'Genius' not 'Abby Normal'

  4. MondoMan

    Anyone for a Swedish House Mafia Greyhound remix?

  5. Anomalous Cowshed


    A bunch of nutters but they seem to get amazing results, simply by using positive incentives. That's quite cool, even though it is a shame that a lot of the stuff will end up being used in smashing people. However, it seems that a lot of technology starts off intended for destruction or to aid and abet destruction, before trickling down to more peaceful and sensible applications.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: DARPA

      A neat part of DARPA is that there aren't any permanent R&D roles there. You go in for a project, or portion thereof, then you're done. This makes it possible to get the absolute best from the professional and academic spheres as you don't stay so long that it makes returning to your chosen field unfeasible. Even the management doesn't stay long, they return to work at Google and other private companies. Keeps everything fresh and prevents them from becoming a bureaucratic quagmire like most other DoD agencies and helps keep security tight as very few individuals get go back.

      The pay isn't great, considering the projects they work on, but many people have commercialized developments they worked on while there then turned around and sold them to the government and/or transitioned elements of their research into non-explodey things for great profit. Overall DARPA projects contribute a lot to humanity as a whole either directly or indirectly. Pretty cool.

  6. Graeme Sutherland

    First they try to trip up Atlas. Then they swing weights at it.

    If they're not careful they'll be getting a killer android with an Austrian accent from the future turning up on their doorstep as payback...

    1. Captain DaFt

      Eh, Atlas doesn't hold a grudge, he just shrugs it off.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Eh, Atlas doesn't hold a grudge, he just shrugs it off.

        He could be more advanced as they realise and hide his true feelings already. If we find one of the team members with a print of a 4x4 in his head, I know which logfiles I'd check first..

  7. Pyrogenic

    Flashback Forward

    Hmmm - Buck Rogers robot Twiki... what was its only line... 'BD BD BD BD" Science fiction or a time traveler's joke?

  8. tfewster

    Tethering has its own limitations

    Drag on an (armoured) cable round a few corners & doorways will stop it. How about the option to plug into a power socket when it reaches its destination?

    Though wireless comms would be a problem in a shielded/metallic/thick walled environment, unless it can drop repeaters as it goes along

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Tethering has its own limitations

      I think it would have to operate under worst case assumptions for a disaster area (i.e. no grid power is available).

      I figure this sort of challenge is good to establish now, with the hope that self contained power options will become available in the future. It would really suck if the battery boffins predictions came to fruition but there was nothing to use the batteries in.

      1. Kris

        Re: Tethering has its own limitations

        There's probably enough power density in petrol, which is what big dog runs off, I thought?

        1. auburnman

          Re: Tethering has its own limitations

          But then you couldn't send it into buildings for fear of gassing the people it's meant to be rescuing surely?

  9. Don Jefe


    What happens if the DARPAbot gets into a DARPAcar for the driving portion of the challenge? Which set of programming gets control? Do they sync? Is the DARPAbots MP3 collection playable on the DARPAcars stereo or does that count as an extra device and require new licenses? Can the DARPAbot be recharged by the DARPAcar? So many questions...

  10. hoboroadie

    Public Safety

    Always an easy sell. I suppose we should plan ahead if we expect to be rescuing survivors as our reactors fail over and again, but this kind of gear really cuts into the cost/benefit ratio, so it won't be billed to the Utility Service. Ounce of prevention is probably cheaper than a few megatons of cure, do the math.

    I think these will be mostly useful for things that soldiers soldiers might not be willing to do.

  11. Mystic Megabyte

    I don't like the look of those hands :(

    Mission Control:

    OK Atlas, go into that bunker. There's a man trapped by his legs.

    <ten minutes and some screaming later>


    I have successfully retrieved the legs

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think it's starting to look like an early Robby


    1. Francis Boyle


      But with those goofy eyes I'm betting on it ending up looking like Bender.

  13. burnttoys

    Boston Dynamics Rock!!

    I mean, they probably will end up building terminators by accident but these guys are awesome. They've built some of the best robots I've ever seen. Big Dog is incredibly impressive even if it is noisy!

    Here's their YouTube channel...

    My little boy must've watched Big Dog Evolution a thousand times! (That's when he's not pretending to be Cheetah!). Ah, yes - check out Sand Flea too.

    When you think of robots being kicked by a 7 foot marine you imagine them falling over. When a robot slips on ice you imagine it tacking a tumble... Just check out Big Dog!

    Note - I do NOT work for Boston Dynamics - I just really appreciate their nous, determination & focus. Basically - it must be one hell of a lot of (hard) fun working there!

    Incidentally - IEEE Spectrum have a iPad "Robots" application - my lad likes that a lot. We got it for free during national robotics week (USA national I guess).

  14. Naughtyhorse

    and when there are no people to rescue.....

    they will form a band!

  15. Tsunamijuan

    Articulated Toes?

    The one thing that really gets me about both the petman and this atlas build is that there seems to be some added instability in the feet. Really makes your respect what toes do for you. Also makes you wonder what kinda of advantages they would gain from having toes. Like the ability to dig into the ground more or increased movement speed, to tiptoeing through debris. Not to mention the ability to smooth out the release of striding movements.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Articulated Toes?

      Toes are very important!

      In Humans, a lot of our stability comes from the fact that our bodies act as an entirely integrated system (in regards to balance, stability and propulsion anyway). Even when seated, just pushing on the ground with your toes causes muscles all the way up to your hips to move as well. When standing or in motion your entire skeleton and most of the muscles below your chin are pushing and pulling against one another in order to keep you stable. Add to that the muscles and tendons are built from many small 'stringy' components that act in several directions simultaneously and extraordinarily articulate joints and you've got a very stable vehicle to carry your brain around in.

      A major disadvantage of current robots is the simplicity (compared to a Human) of their 'muscles' and joints. Technology isn't yet able to produce equivalent size-to-power ratio actuators as things like toes need and what is available only work in a linear fashion so you get into weird offset hinges and pushrods that are awkward and weak. Thats why current robots are all jerky. Once all that stuff is sorted the next big trick will be making all the parts work as a truly unified system instead of a collection seperate systems. One of the engineers in our machine shop has done some neat musculature experiments with Nitinol wire bundles but has met with, at best, limited success.

      The technology will get there one day, then we'll all have to decide if it is a good thing or not. My personal jury is still out on that.

      Sorry for the rant. Yes, toes are cool.

  16. Big-nosed Pengie

    Jezuz. If it makes that dreadful noise I hope the kill it with fire or anything else.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clan version?

    I'm thinking of buying one, but how many PPCs can I mount?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    There's a whole load of future coming our way

  19. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Next on the SkyNet agenda: Work on a suitable dermal covering so as to blend in with the indigenous human population.

  20. ysth

    But does it run Perl?

    1. Interceptor

      I'm sure we're in no danger from these things. The minute they start roaming around, some linux beardo will tackle one and forcibly install a new distro on it, smugly formatting whatever storage was holding it's original OS. The 'bot will then immediately locate the nearest similarly-compromised unit and argue with it about which desktop/UI is the best until their batteries fail.

  21. Martin Budden Silver badge

    "modular wrists that accept third-party hands"

    Does this mean it could carry several extra hands with it, each with a specialised function, and swap hands as required during the challenge/rescue? If so, that would be quite cool.

  22. Crisp

    Modular Wrists

    Those could be dangerous in the wrong third party hands!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The man most directly responsible is Miles Bennet Dyson.

    In a few months, he invents a revolutionary kind of vacuum cleaner.

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