Strike a pose! MIT is developing software for Boston Dynamic’s DARPA-funded robot. Put a human inside the Atlas frame somehow, bam, Iron Man. (via MIT)

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot has been around only for about a year or so and has been making great strides (literally). The bi-pedal robot is actually the product of several companies, Sandia National Laboratories designed one of the robot’s hands while iRobot designed the other, while Team MIT provides the code to get it to function correctly and for its future roll in hazardous environments. Based on DARPA’s earlier PETMAN robot, the 6-foot tall 330Lbs.


Atlas features four independent hydraulically actuated limbs, which possess a total of 28-degrees of freedom. Its head is outfitted with a laser range finder and a pair of stereo cameras that are controlled by an onboard PC, which it uses to navigate rough terrain and even climb stairs. MIT has been working with the Atlas since the beginning of DARPA’s Robotics Challenge in 2012 to develop semi-autonomous ground robots that can perform complex tasks in dangerous areas (AKA: battlefields,etc).


The challenge comprises three phases, with the first being the Virtual Robotics Challenge, which pit teams against each other using virtual robots that had to function using their individual software platforms. MIT placed third out of nine for that heat (Institute for Human and Machine Cognition placed first), which is still respectable. Next came the DRC Trials (held December 13 of last year) that put the team’s robots through an obstacle course to perform a series of physical tasks to test mobility, dexterity and manipulation (among a host of others). MIT placed fourth in that heat, which considering such a short time period for development is still commendable (SCHAFT placed first).


So, where does that leave MIT now in the great DRC? Sadly, it doesn’t look good, taking the fourth spot with a total of 16 points out of a possible 32. Points are given for completing each task, which are worth a single point. Team MIT will have to ramp up their skills to come in first for the last leg of the Challenge (Finals) set for June of 2015. They have already gotten the robot to balance on one leg and even be hit by projectiles while doing so. As it stands at this point, the Team is refining their software to make the robot faster and more autonomous, while being able to visualize objects in its path and move them out of the way. Not an easy task. It’s capable of identifying different sized objects and drags them out of the way with relative ease. Think about it, this means that with the included ability to maintain balance, the robot can carry different weighted objects in each arm without barreling over.


Carrying a human in one while holding a protective shield in the other to keep them safe on the battlefield would be no problem for the Atlas. It will be interesting to see how Team MIT and the Atlas perform in the next leg of the competition and how the robot will evolve.



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