The Atlas robot is 6-foot-2, weighs 330 pounds and can make a range of natural movements. It has an on-board, real-time control computer as well as a hydraulic pump and thermal management, two arms, two legs, a torso and a head, 28 hydraulically actuated joints, and a Carnegie Robotics sensor head with LIDAR and stereo sensors, and two sets of hands.
LIDAR is a term taken from the combination of the words light and radar. It is a sensing technology using laser beams to measure distances.
The robot was built by Boston Dynamics and is being used in the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's ongoing Robotics Challenge. The challenge is to develop hardware and software to help robots perform hazardous tasks in human-supervised humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief operations.
DARPA began its challenge in 2010 and it will continue until the end of 2014.
The agency said the first competition under the challenge was virtual -- designed for those who didn't have their own robots or hardware experience -- and produced seven winners who designed their own software. Seven winning teams from industry and academia each received an Atlas robot to perform with their software and will receive DARPA funding and ongoing technical support from Boston Dynamics.
A second competition event and live competition will be held in December.
"The Virtual Robotics Challenge was a proving ground for teams' ability to create software to control a robot in a hypothetical scenario," DARPA Program Manager Dr. Gill Pratt said. "The DRC [DARPA Robotics Challenge] simulator tasks were fairly accurate representations of real-world causes and effects but the experience wasn't quite the same as handling an actual, physical robot.
"Now these seven teams will see if their simulation-honed algorithms can run a real machine in real environments, and we expect all the teams will be further refining their algorithms using both simulation and experimentation."
DARPA also wants to demonstrate that robots can be made to use tools designed for people -- from screwdrivers to fire trucks -- and can be supervised by people who aren't trained to operate robots.
Currently, robots such as those developed for explosive ordnance disposal, are operated with human supervision at the motion level, but in a disaster situation communications can be degraded and "teleoperation" won't be a practical.
"They tend to be pretty small machines," Pratt said of EOD robots. "They have treads in most cases and they're mainly used for inspection. They help give situational awareness to first responders ... but they don't do anything to really affect the disaster."
In disaster scenarios it would be necessary for robot operating teams is to give task-level commands to the robot -- such as commands to open a door, go up stairs, and turn a handle, Pratt said.
"What that will require is for the robot itself to use [its own] perceptual processing ... to understand what it is looking at and then to use behavior controls to execute the task while watching what the effect of the task is."