Google is Teaching its Robots the Deadly Art of Karate (No, Really)

13 Nov 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot Is Trying to Be the Karate Kid, Crane Kick and All.

Ian, a 6-foot-2-inch robot built by Google’s robotics subsidiary Boston Dynamics, can perform the Crane Kick from ‘The Karate Kid.’ Advances in robotics could help Google and other companies build robots that could replace humans in dangerous search-and-rescue scenarios. Boston Dynamics, the Google-owned robotics company that brought us sprinting death trap WildCat, now brings us “Ian,” a karate-fighting, self-balancing hunk of metal. The 6-foot-2, 150-kilogram robot is the result of a collaboration between Waltham-based Boston Dynamics and the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, which provided the balance algorithm.

So why is Boston Dynamics, a robotics company acquired last December by Google, working to teach karate to “Ian,” one of its humanoid Atlas robots? Atlas, which is also known as Ian, according to 9to5Google, is meant to have human capabilities that will allow it to someday replace people in dangerous situations like emergency response. It said previous videos of Atlas showed it climbing over rubble and removing debris, indicating it is being developed to eventually go on rescue missions.

That kick looks like it would be more painful from Ian’s metallic body than from Macchio’s bony frame, but Ian is neither the first nor the scariest of Boston Dynamics’s creations. The robot is able to balance on one leg on a stack of cinder blocks, raising and lowering its arms and free leg in a rough imitation of Daniel-san’s famous crane stance from the climactic scene of “The Karate Kid.” In contrast to Daniel, Ian moves slowly, almost clumsily, as it struggles to balance its 6-foot-2-inch, 330-pound body. Last summer, an earlier version of Ian named “ATLAS” showed off some of its athletic feats, including balancing after being by a weight and walking on a treadmill in a human-like way. The increasingly humanoid ATLAS is a bit frightening-looking, although it’s still got a ways to go before launching a Terminator-like attack on mankind.

Now, the company is working on a nimbler version of Atlas — an improved 2.0 model that will have a high-capacity battery in place of a bulky external power cord. In addition to the humanoid Atlas, Boston Dynamics also makes BigDog, a four-legged robot that can carry heavy loads over rough terrain, and Sand Flea, a small wheeled robot that can jump 30 feet in the air to clear walls or other obstacles. If Ian’s performance is the high water mark for robot karate, it’s safe to say that humans won’t be bested by robots in hand-to-hand combat anytime soon. But robots may soon be able to pull us from burning buildings or out from under rubble after a natural disaster, and even carry us to safety, if companies like Boston Dynamics are able to continue to improve their robots’ strength and coordination.

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