back to article Boston Dynamics spends months training its Atlas robots to perform one minute of parkour almost perfectly

Boston Dynamics has released its flashiest promo video yet: a one-minute clip of not one but two Atlas robots competently completing a parkour obstacle course. At first glance, it’s simultaneously impressive and bizarre. The pair of fridge-sized machines move fluidly, jumping over blocks, stepping up platforms, and walking …

  1. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Quick learner

    > Boston Dynamics spends months training its Atlas robots to perform one minute of parkour almost perfectly

    So, it was considerably faster than teaching a person to do the same thing. Assuming both the person and the robot started with no parkour skills at all.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: Quick learner

      Without diminishing the magnitude of this achievement, to call this course 'parkour' is somewhat of an exaggeration. To train a person, even a very small person, to do this same level of course would take a matter of minutes.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Quick learner

        To train a person, even a very small person, to do this same level of course would take a matter of minutes.

        I will never master the backflip, and I'm not rare in that respect.

        1. Fr. Ted Crilly

          Re: Quick learner

          on the other foot, you and I have a perfectly natural, reasonable concern, about the continued functioning of our neck vertebrae which generally increases with age and exposure to near misses...

        2. Stumpy

          Re: Quick learner

          Hell, I'd struggle to master the suave shoulder sweep right at the end...

        3. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

          Re: Quick learner

          I was talking about the course, but yes, the backflip is seriously impressive. I'm pretty sure I could do that - just once - as long as I didn't need any motor functions from the neck down afterward.

      2. Lil Endian

        Re: Quick learner

        A significant difference is in the memory functions of the two entities (human and machine).

        Explicit Memory vs Implicit Memory

        Humans have both types of memory, and use their unconscious memories (implicit = non-recall).

        The bots only have the explicit memories.

        So the meatbag has the advantage, ergo the shortening in the learning curve human vs bot that you mention.

        [There other factors that give the human the advantage..... for now muahahahaaaa!]

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Terminator

          Re: Quick learner

          I have to wonder how much paralleliism there is in the robots' learning algorithm.

          With a lot of parallel operations, you could power it with a server farm and something a bit better than wifi networking. That'd speed the learning process up, right?

          (eventually >256 core CPUs but who knows when THAT will happen... at least one that STILL fits in a robot)

    2. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Quick learner

      The robot probably "worked" either 8 or 24 hours a day learning.

      A human probably goes to a club once a week for an hour, of which roughly half of which is general socialising with people you haven't seen since last week, and half an hour is actual training.

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Quick learner

      A human takes an average of 10 months just to learn how to walk a few steps.

      So teaching this course to a grown human draws of many years of prior learning and practice.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Quick learner

        Much of that 10 months is spent growing the muscles and skeletal structure necessary for the task. It's not like newborns are studying walking 101 and after months of study they finally get it.

    4. DS999 Silver badge

      Oh come on!

      That's not parkour! I'm 55 but I could easily do everything in that video except the backflips at the end. I'll bet I'll be able to do it when I'm 75. That stuff was hardly more difficult than walking on stairs.

      As for real parkour, I'll bet I could learn it in a month (when I was younger) if when I fall and break my leg I could have a new leg attached and be back at it 20 minutes later. The reason it takes humans longer than a month to master is because if they get hurt they may need weeks or even months of healing before they can get back at it.

      If you were freed of any concern for pain or injury, you could learn parkour quite quickly. Given that it took a month to teach these robots to do nothing most of us can't do other than the backflip, how long would it take for them to learn REAL parkour? How much longer to do it dynamically rather than repeating the same pattern?

      We certainly don't need to fear being chased on rooftops by these "terminators". They'd be lost if faced with a roof they hadn't spent a month training on!

  2. Esme
    Terminator

    I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords..

    8-} That was amazing!

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge
      Terminator

      Proper rockets. Proper Robots. Proper jetpacks. The future is finally arriving.

      Yeah, you forget they're robots and start complaining about how heavy footed they are. "They're like a tribe of dancing elephants, only one one-hundred-and-twenty-fifth as cute."

      I was going to make a joke about them being ATLAS and P-body. But they damn well called their robot Atlas.

    2. Edwin
      Terminator

      Re: I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords..

      Agreed. Boston Dynamics is quite possibly the coolest company on the planet.

  3. macjules Silver badge
    Terminator

    Boston Dynamics spends months training its Atlas robots

    Now lets see them do that while carrying a combi missile launcher and minigun.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: Boston Dynamics spends months training its Atlas robots

      ...and we both know that's exactly where this is going.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Boston Dynamics spends months training its Atlas robots

        ED-209

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAPwh0SMzIo

        Icon - I'd buy that for a dollar!

  4. werdsmith Silver badge

    That's so astounding that I can barely believe it's not CGI. It's in the league of landing rocket boosters vertically on sea barges. Had I been in that room I think I would have been spooked out.

    1. AdamT

      wait until you see them (SpaceX) attempt - and hopefully succeed - in catching an even bigger booster out of the air using a couple of robotic arms attached to a huge tower...

      1. corbpm

        And after catching, refuel it, throw a new mission deployment package on top, light the touch paper and ad nauseum.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Meanwhile Amazon buy a couple of these robots and train them to dive through the court windows to serve papers sueing SpaceX for unfairly using engineering

  5. Alan Bourke

    Cue 'robotic overlords' panic from the internets

    When of course while it's super cool and impressive and I love it, it's still a non-intelligent machine that does one thing, like a Roomba, and the huge amount of processing grunt involved isn't pictured.

    1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Re: Cue 'robotic overlords' panic from the internets

      "it's still a non-intelligent machine that does one thing"

      The whole point is just the opposite. They are trying to develop something that can do more than one thing. Theoretically at least, it has been told some basics and instructed to perform this routine which it has subsequently 'learned' how to do for itself.

      Next they'll have it realise it's getting low on power, and use an extension lead to plug it's groinal attachment port into a 13A socket ... then do the hoovering and ironing.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Terminator

        Re: Cue 'robotic overlords' panic from the internets

        A multi-purpose groinal attachment. Oh yes, I can plug a number of add-ons into my groinal socket, allowing me to perform virtually any household task imaginable: buzz saw, power drill, hedge trimmer ...even an egg whisk!

        1. The commentard formerly known as Miek

          Re: Cue 'robotic overlords' panic from the internets

          A double Polaroid! No-one should get a double Polaroid from a household appliance catalogue!

        2. J. Cook Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Cue 'robotic overlords' panic from the internets

          You forgot the reciprocating saw in that list of-

          :is forcibly ejected from the room:

  6. Oh Matron!

    When you can train it to do the housework....

    you'll have my money. Until then, Meh.

    (Only joking. This is immensely impressive. With a tonne more ML, it will manage the same objects in a natural environment. I wonder what will come first: completely natural object recognition using ML, or LIDAR based object recognition, or both).

    1. corbpm
      Alien

      Re: When you can train it to do the housework....

      I've noted it was a joke BTW, but

      House work would be too difficult as an early task, homes are varied with too many variables.

      I don't like my socks in a ball for instance after washing, and my sink tap sometimes needs a gentle whack and yes i like walking around that "obstacle"

      Much better in a more structured environment like a Amazon factory removing lots of (expensive) humans jobs.

      Or Cleaning the streets (day in day out the same streets, walk through once and repeat!)

      No need for them on checkouts since we are becoming more used to doing the checkout operators jobs ourselves , they could replace the Herder who tirelessly directs us at the supermarket away from the single checkout operator still working to the bank of "Self Service Checkouts" with a simple Robot though but would we listen to a mere machine.

      I would listen to a "Herder" robot if it was backed up by a Human OR it was ED-209 from RoboCop

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: When you can train it to do the housework....

        >OR it was ED-209 from RoboCop

        Unexpected item in bagging area - you have 10 seconds to comply

        1. John PM Chappell
          Thumb Up

          Re: When you can train it to do the housework....

          That was genius. Narrowly avoided owing me a new keyboard! ;)

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: When you can train it to do the housework....

        Nandroids. heh. Reminds me of Emmy the Robot (web comic)

  7. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    It's difficult to overstate their ability to balance

    For us it's natural but being able to use two legs and stay balanced while moving and using force is incredibly difficult. At the same time, it is an extremely practical ability when working outside factories and office space. Imagine how useful this ability would be, for example, for exploring foreign planets, though no doubt the military will have first pick.

    And the research project and presumably the relevant patents will be around the necessary components and AI models that are required for this.

    1. 96percentchimp

      Re: It's difficult to overstate their ability to balance

      For the military, they'll be the ultimate drones - highly capable remote-guided weapons platforms with just enough autonomy to get from A to B while the operator maintains situational awareness. It's the ultimate in boots on the ground without risk to life, and even better if one operator can control the coordinated actions of an entire platoon.

      For exploration, it's the ideal telepresence platform - cocoon your humans in a safe orbital station around Titan or a ground habitat on Mars and send the bots into the hazardous environment.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: It's difficult to overstate their ability to balance

        Until they're batteries run out of they get caught in a simple trap, stripped down and sold for parts in the local market.

        Of course it could be a cunning plan. Make your military tech so complex that when you lose and have to 'strategically withdraw' leaving all the kit behind, the locals can't reuse any of it.

        Better hope that Toyota doesn't start making robot pickups

      2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: It's difficult to overstate their ability to balance

        The military was indeed very impressed by early models but the energy problems: batteries don't last long, petrol engines have their own problems quickly put paid to them as soldiers. But for reconnaissance or camp work it's possibly a different story.

  8. Plest Bronze badge
    Unhappy

    Scary

    Boston Dynamics videos always bother me, their rather sci-fi looking droids always reek of "next step is the training of Skynet".

    1. TangoDelta72
      Terminator

      Re: Scary videos

      Boston Dynamics has been "parodied" and are definitely fakes, but the real company has released valid ones too:

      "Bosstown Dynamics": https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/armed-robot-video/

      Boston Dynamics: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/real-dancing-robots/

      Still, the future is coming fast, both in robotics and deepfakes.

  9. Trygve Henriksen

    I wonder how well they would do in a random layout course with similar difficulty.

  10. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Coat

    Boston Dynamics didn't release any information about their battery life.

    Given a demo of a minute or so, perhaps, say, ninety seconds?

    The one with the PP3 in the pocket -->

    1. spold

      Re: Boston Dynamics didn't release any information about their battery life.

      Well that is the one current weakness, with all the jumping around the extension lead keeps getting tangled up...

    2. J. Cook Silver badge

      Re: Boston Dynamics didn't release any information about their battery life.

      Probably longer than that; maybe twenty minutes of full performance, but with reasonable power management, possibly as long as an hour?

      And of course there's no information on battery life publicly available- that's a trade secret.

      (my guesstimate is based largely on power usage from how fast some of my cordless tools can drain the larger capacity battery packs I have for them.)

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Boston Dynamics didn't release any information about their battery life.

        the kind of energy you'd need to jump around is kinda like the energy you need to fly a quad-copter.

        So if you extrapolate typical quad-copter battery life, maybe similar?

  11. resoldab

    Runtime? Has to be nuclear

    How else will they be able to rule the world?

  12. Neil 44

    Ninja Warrior (America/UK/Australia)?

    Maybe they need to enter it for Ninja Warrior in one of the countries?

    eg https://www.nbc.com/american-ninja-warrior

  13. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Question

    How long would it take an athletic human adult to learn how to navigate the course and do gymnastics? While this is impressive, it appears the robots have the motor skills/learning capacity of a toddler. Of course the programs should improve over time.

    1. The Mole

      Re: Question

      You make it sound like having the motor skills of a toddler isn't impressive - and I've not seen many toddlers who can back flip or jump that confidently and accurately.

      Beyond humans there are very few animal species that could do all those actions on just two legs without a tail.

      In fact whilst most adults and older children could do the steps, sloped wedges and transition from the blocks to the beam that would be done with more of a stepping jump with a leading leg. I doubt many could do the transition as three, two footed standing jumps without any swaying, repositioning or needing to regain balance on landing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Question

        Don't knock toddler's motor skills. From a college textbook on child development, I read about an experiment where adult volunteers in peak physical condition (I believe they were recruited from an armed forces unit) were tasked with copying all the physical movements of toddlers at play. The grown ups lasted something like 20 minutes before they were exhausted.

        (Granted, there's stuff like the square cube law at play, plus a distinction between motor skills and stamina)

    2. Lil Endian

      Re: Question

      In part covered by my post above ("explicit memory vs implicit memory")

      I'll add to that that humans are here as, so far, we haven't failed a Darwin test. The bots we're making have to rely on us to be their "natural selection". We'll (they'll?) get there - if it doesn't work, try something else. But the evolutionary curves are at a very, very different point on said curve.

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Question

      A toddler who is 3 years old takes 3 years to learn how to walk like a toddler.

  14. anthonyhegedus

    Fucking hell

    Yeah, it'll do the housework... loading the kaftans into the washing machine, cleaning the teacups, sharpening the beheading scythe, picking up the stones for that evening's stoning - that sort of thing. And after just a few minutes of training and an AK47, it can mow down any 'non-innocent' locals who happen to be passing.

    Battery life? That's important to know.

    1. Lil Endian
      Joke

      Re: Fucking hell

      I'm sure it'll be fine, the bots will use "regenerative recoil" to recharge their cells as they fire their AKs. The more they fire, the healthier they get! Win win!

      Hang on.... :o

      (x_x)

  15. Il'Geller

    “That is to say, as far as we can tell, the robots were given a set of basic actions by their creators, and then learned how to use those actions to get from A to B from what they could see around them.”

    The same search for the right solutions in this context: there is a context and a solution is searched for. There the context should be annotated in a proper manner, which makes it searchable. This is the AI tecnology.

  16. J. Cook Silver badge

    It's an interesting demo, for certain.

    I'd love to see a blooper reel of failed attempts, though.

    1. LoPath
      Happy

      Dancing Robots

      How about them dancing?? Ultimately cheesy, but grand!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn3KWM1kuAw

    2. Pantagoon

      Bloopers

      Bloopers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EezdinoG4mk

  17. ian 22
    Boffin

    Looking forward to centauroid 'bots

    Whilst the parkour demo is impressive, a more useful form factor than humanoid is the centaur, and given the already developed "Big Dog", it shouldn’t be difficult to build. The added body could accommodate additional power sources, support further cargo weight, and might allow for horse-like running speeds. Such a robot form could be the basis for soldier 'bots.

  18. Ascendino Santos Souza

    Re: Will Atlas robots be the future?

    By completing a parkour obstacle course, two Atlas robots from Boston Dynamics, demonstrated the power these machines can play in the future.

    These wonderful machines jump, walk, and climb over platforms, blocks, and wooden planks, showing us a frenzy of multiple actions.

    The achievements of these machines are the hard work of engineers and scientists.

    The movement from points A - B, from physical environment is not mere virtual theory, but practical theory.

    Whether Atlas robots will be the future, nobody knows yet.

    But the future may be just around the corner.

    Reference

    Katyanna Quach. Boston Dynamics spends months training its Atlas robots to perform one minute of parkour almost perfectly. https://www.theregister.com/2021/08/18/boston_dynamics_parkour/

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