ATLAS is a robot, but watch it walk, avoid objects and catch its balance, and it’s hard to not think that there is a ghost inside the machine. ATLAS is designed and constructed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to compete in its upcoming robotics challenge. At 6’2” and 330 pounds, it would be an overweight human, but ATLAS is a lean metal machine. It has 28 hydraulic joints which allow separate movements of shoulders, elbows and wrists (meaning that ATLAS can shrug). It has advanced real time perception and can regulate its own temperature. ATLAS has no problem going up stairs, negotiating obstacles and gaps, and maintaining balance while getting bonked by a twenty pound weight.
But most of all, ATLAS is terrifying. It’s clear both visually and from its specs that it beats you in a fight. Is that what it’s for? Possibly, or different versions of it could be. DARPA is, after all, part of the Department of Defense, and designs technology for use by the military. Much of the military operations that the U.S. conducts right now is done by remotely controlled drones. Could ground wars move in the same direction?
And on the benevolent side, when will are homes be populated with robot servants who will make us dinner, serve it with a smile and then go do the dishes? Does Japan already have those?
You will probably never meet ATLAS face to (robot) face, but it’s very possible that you will know its brethren. And that before long, you will forget what life was like without them.