This week Boston Dynamics announced the retirement of their hydraulic Atlas and unveiled what comes next—a fully electric Atlas robot designed for real-world applications. It is designed to be stronger, lighter, faster, more dextrous and smarter than its hydraulic predecessor. The new bot builds on decades of research, putting Boston Dynamics at the forefront once again, just as it had done with the quadruped robots Spot and Stretch.

As a tribute to the robot that pushed the limits of the humanoid form, Boston Dynamics has put together a compilation video of Atlas’ thrills (and spills) and included some behind-the-scenes footage.

The new Altas robot stands at about 4’9″, and weighs about 195 pounds. As capable as it is, will only be as good as its brains, and Boston Dynamics recognizes that. In addition to hardware advancements, the company is also focusing on software development, including reinforcement learning, computer vision, and their Orbit™ software platform. The Orbit™ software provides a centralized solution to manage entire robot fleets, site maps, and digital transformation data. It is currently available for Spot, Stretch, and will be integrated into the electric Atlas. This will make it possible to coordinate the actions of Atlas robots on large tasks, like a team leader, telling every robot what to do without having to verbally tell each one. All this suggests new corporate IT architectures to support the bots, and the rise of a new class of commercial robotics specialists.

The Age of Robots has been predicted in science fiction for over a hundred years, beginning with stories such as Rossum’s Universal Robots by Karl Capek. This new electric version of Atlas bears a striking resemblence to the description of Robbie from Isaac Asimov’s book I Robot, complete to his head with its single great eye that looks like a circular television screen. As a long-time science fiction fan myself, I cannot help but think that the designers of the new bot have all read the book.

It looks like the robots we were all dreaming of are finally here.

The Role of a Humanoid Robot

This latest iteration of the Atlas robot builds on a long history of innovation and R&D pushing the limits of whole-body mobility and bimanual manipulation. From PETMAN testing protective clothing to the recently retired HD Atlas performing parkour, they have spent over a decade moving the state of the art forward with humanoid robotics.

However, the human form factor isn’t as much of a limitation on how a bipedal robot can move than you’d think. Atlas can rotate most of its joints continuously in 360 degrees of freedom, resulting in surprising abilities and some jarring visuals. Our horror movies are full of creatures who look human but that bend and move in ways no human can, so that might play a role in how well the new robots are accepted. That said, the extra range of motion lets the robots move in the most efficient way possible to complete a task, rather than being constrained by the built-in limitations of human joint structure.

Boston Dynamics has partnered with Hyundai, who will serve as a testing ground for the new robot’s potential. The company believes that humanoids will be most effective if they are deployed with in-depth models of a facility and lots of data about how it operates. The ramifications of this are obvious: the job classification of factory worker will start to be seriously impacted over the next ten years. The auto worker, for example, will be seriously impacted by the presence of robots, and factories will likely require roughly half the number of humans they used to use. This will have serious ramifications for human society and civilization moving forward. We just won’t need as many humans to do the work.


Gene Turnbow
Gene Turnbow

President of Krypton Media Group, Inc., radio personality and station manager of Part writer, part animator, part musician, part illustrator, part programmer, part entrepreneur – all geek.