back to article Terminator-style robot busts leg in martial arts demo mishap

Hong Kong University robotics researchers ended up with egg on their faces today when their new $2m walking robot tripped over and broke its leg while trying to strut its funky stuff at its first public performance. HKU’s prize robot – called Atlas and created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-off Boston Dynamics …


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  1. Nick 10


    Am I the only one that read HKU and thought it must mean Hunter Killer Unit?

    1. zooooooom

      Re: HKU

      Well... Its a spawn of DARPA, and what with all the bad publicity those friendly unmanned aircraft are getting these days....

    2. Craigyb

      Re: HKU

      You are not the only one to think that!

    3. Bill Murty

      Re: HKU


    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Mr Miyagi

      Should be on hand.

  2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    Robot out-performed by pensioner. We're safe for a while yet...

    Tai chi is very popular among old people here, you can see them in the parks, early in the morning, practising. For those not familiar with this martial art, it is characterised by slow, smooth movements. It is martial in origin, but is a form of gentle stretching exercise now.

    1. Lamont Cranston

      Re: Robot out-performed by pensioner. We're safe for a while yet...

      Tai Chi was used to defeat the bad guys in Lethal Weapon - if the robot grows a mullet, then we should be scared.

    2. Triggerfish

      Re: Robot out-performed by pensioner. We're safe for a while yet...

      It still is taught as a martial art here and there, but I agree its taught by a lot of people now who don't have a clue to its origin and just see it as some low impact excercise.

    3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: characterised by slow, smooth movements

      Don't be fooled by the apparent slowness. First of all, it's a lot harder to do movements slowly than it is to do them quickly - so slow means you truly master the muscular difficulty.

      Second, I once saw a Tai-Chi master demonstrate a movement in slow and quick modes. I guarantee that the quick mode was quite impressive, and I do not doubt that an opponent would have been seriously injured by that flurry of activity.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Mainly impressive if it gives you the finger.

  4. Alister

    According to Boston Dynamics, Atlas is a high mobility robot designed to negotiate difficult outdoor terrain.

    Ah, there's your problem, right there...

    It should have been designed to negotiate tricky indoor terrain, you know like highly polished lab floors, loose rugs, spilt cups of coffee, that sot of thing.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Obstacles that have been strategically deployed in nursing homes since times immemorial to lighten the ranks.

      Add the ever-on TV to dull the will and confuse.

  5. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    It's all happening in Hong Kong

    The other hot news is, "Transformers director attacked by 'zombie' triad wielding aircon unit"

    Beware, the Chinese have more weird martial arts than you can shake a stick random improvised weapon at.

  6. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    the good news

    The robot is already better at acting than Arnold Schwarzenegger ever was.

  7. phil dude

    power source...

    when you look at this machine and the heavy cables powering it, just remember. A fit human can run a marathon consuming a pound fat in energy....

    We have a lot to learn about efficient machine construction...!


    1. NumptyScrub

      Re: power source...

      quote: "when you look at this machine and the heavy cables powering it, just remember. A fit human can run a marathon consuming a pound fat in energy...."

      This got me highly interested to see just how different the energy requirements are between organic runner and mechanical walker, so I thought I'd do a little digging and some maths:

      According to Wikipedia fat has an energy density of 37kJ/g, so a pound (~454g) would contain approximately 16.8MJ available for metabolisation.

      Used in an hour, that would be an ongoing power requirement of 4.6kW (16.8MJ / 3600s), although a quick search suggests an "average" time for the London marathon is more like 4 hours, so I'm going to take 1.2kW ongoing power usage (1.16 rounded up) for your human running a marathon. 1.2kW delivered via 240VAC mains electricity is around 4.8A current, which is actually a significant amount.

      In fact subsequent searching to see if anyone has actually measured the efficiency of humans, brings up that human (skeletal) muscles are about 18% to 26% energy efficient apparently. If the actuators on the robot can hit 30% or more, it may actually be more energy efficient that we are ^^;

      1. McDuderson

        Re: power source...

        Keep in mind that the energy content in fat is measured as chemical energy released in the form of thermal energy based on combustion. So humans convert that chemical energy to motion at 18-26% efficiency. The robot is using electricity to generate motion, which is already a very high quality form of energy. For 1 J of power from electricity, you'll typically need to combust 2.5 J of chemical energy in some fuel to drive a heat engine (Brayton or Rankine cycle), so to properly compare the efficiency, you need to start from a chemical energy source in both cases and not give the robot the advantage of a electrical-to-motion efficiency while discussing human's chemical-to-motion efficiency.

        1. NumptyScrub

          Re: power source...

          Hmmm... 1/2.5 is around 40% efficiency (almost identical to the losses quoted for humans converting food energy to ATP, bizarrely enough). According to a quick search, some unsubstantiated figures would put electrical motors at an alleged achievable efficiency of 70% to 90%.

          Putting the 2 together, 70% of the 40% would make an (apparently lower efficiency) electrical motor approximately 28% efficient, based on hydrocarbon burning in a heat engine. If you wanted to take the upper bounds for that quoted motor efficiency, it would be around 36% overall.

          Taking extra losses into account (friction, startup losses etc.), I still reckon the 18-26% efficiency quoted for humans sounds achievable (and possibly even exceedable) by a humaniform robot. It would also have a similar CO2 output if you are truly running them both off the same amount of organic compounds ^^;

          I can't say that this was the conclusion I was expecting, to be honest...

  8. Faye B

    Show and tell

    Aww come on, where's the video. Nothing can beat a bit of schadenfreude than when it involves robots and smug scientists.

    1. DropBear

      Re: Show and tell

      What, are you kidding me?!? I swear that's what the Terminator kept mumbling after it killed the last human on earth: "It hurt so bad, and they were all laughing at me! They just couldn't stop laughing...!"

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  10. Khaptain


    Are there any practical reasons for robot builders to build robots in the syle of Homo Sapiens ? Apart from the obvious narcissistic reasons.

    Personally I think that the Boston Dynamics Big Dog is a far more practical.

    1. A Known Coward

      Re: Narcissism

      Isaac Asimov suggested that human form robots were ultimately the most practical and versatile as they could use human tools, drive human vehicles and navigate human environments. Although ultimately more complicated to design, a human form robot could be used for almost any task currently performed by a human without redesigning our whole world around it (at incalculable expense).

      Big Dog serves a vary narrow, niche purpose - it can't pick up and fire a weapon, drive a car, dial a phone or even turn on a light switch. In fact, last I saw, it couldn't even perform all the tasks of a dog - it cannot fetch, it's more of a Donkey than a Dog.

      1. bigtimehustler

        Re: Narcissism

        Perform all the tasks of a dog...fetching? I'd say there are more fundamental things are dog does that this does not other than fetching...mating being one....forming social relationships being another...the list goes on. But yes, I see your point! ha

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Narcissism

          Yeah... remember the Beach Ball Alien in Dark Star?

          IT PREVAILED! Nearly.

      2. dssf

        Re: Narcissism... Nihilism...


        And, when they dispense with us or enslave us, and then improve self-reproduction, they can take any form they want. That's something WE cannot do, well, not yet, hahaha....

      3. DropBear

        Re: Narcissism

        So where's the problem...? That's what Centaurs were invented for! I mean, c'mon... if a batallion of armed robotic horse-men charging isn't terrifying awesome, I really don't know what is...

  11. ravenviz Silver badge

    This video is very scary, especially Atlas manically crawling through a corridor.

    Reminds me of the homicial robot from 1980's Saturn 3.

  12. The last doughnut

    I for one ... oh sod it I'm off for a beer

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sweep the leg

    Hold the robot rebellion, Kobra Kai would seem to have this one covered.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Four legs good,

    Two legs baaad.

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "Wu Ha" becomes "Oh Whoops"

    Tai Chi is also the exercise being practiced by the John Hillerman in the opening titles for Magnum PI.

    so Old Codger 1, robot 0.

  16. Crisp

    Before pics are useless without After pics

    See title.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Obviously it's Chakras were not aligned correctly.

  18. dssf

    Fell and busted its ankle?

    But, it LOOKS like it was tethered.

    Maybe they should have built a cushioned sumo wrestler ring around its programmed dance box, hehehhe. Or, maybe they should have endowed it to stand on its apparently non-present "third leg"?

  19. Arachnoid

    Dojo I mean Oh No!

    Them tatami mats are killers it could be the last straw for this robot.

  20. John Tserkezis

    Let me tell you what happens when you demo a prototype in front of the boss and something drastic goes wrong:

    The entire project vanishes into fat air.

    For the projects that made it, obviously a bit of luck was needed. :-)

  21. Adam Foxton

    It could almost pass for human

    With the right footwear, an inconspicuous waterproof covering and a mobile, self-propelling human-rideable vehicle that can act as a local power generator / comms hub when it stops travelling.

    What I'm saying is it needs your clothes, boots and motorcycle.

  22. The Grump

    I' a headache.

    The sexbot industry has a long way to go, if this is an example of current tech. It has the "lying there" part down pat, but the "looking pretty" part? Ehhh...NO. Not if were the last bot on Earth. Clearly, DARPA has the wrong priorities when it comes to "supporting our troops". I believe our entire military would applaud ATTRACTIVE, disease-free sexbots to "support our troops". This bot - ewwwww !

  23. Ironclad

    Sweep the leg

    'nuff said.

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