In Greek mythology Atlas was one of the second-generation immortal Titans, godlike beings of great strength and endurance who went to war with the Olympic deities.
Atlas's 21st century namesake may not be a Titan, but he is fairly titanic. ATLAS is a six-foot-two, 330-pound humanoid robot with 28 hydraulically actuated joints (kind of like an action figure but with more than just a kung-fu grip). The robot can not only walk, jump and climb stairs but do simple calisthenics and will eventually, once his programming is complete, be able to do a whole lot more.
ATLAS was built by Boston Dynamics for the ongoing Robotics Challenge organized by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Although DARPA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Robot Challenge isn't creating real-life Terminators. Instead, it's intended to push the development of advanced disaster response robots —robots which could be sent into places like the Fukushima nuclear power plant without further endangering human life.
You can see ATLAS in action below, as he navigates a rather difficult course and overcomes obstacles placed in his way (all while accompanied by a rocking techno beat):
Now that ATLAS has been unveiled, scientists will spend the next few months improving its programming. DARPA program manager Gill Pratt told IEEE Spectrum that ATLAS is currently at "roughly at the competence level of a 1-year-old child." It will need to get a lot better by the time the seven teams in the competition go head-to-head this December. By then, the robots will need to be able to complete eight difficult, disaster-oriented tasks: drive utility vehicles, travel complex terrain full of rubble, remove debris from blocked entranceways, open doors, climb ladders, break through walls with cutting tools, locate and close valves and carry fire hoses.
Asking a robot to rescue a human being is a big task, but Atlas the Titan spent eternity with the heavens on his back, so hopefully ATLAS and his fellow competitors will be able to shoulder the responsibility.
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