Boston Dynamics Robots 'Atlas' and 'SpotMini' Can Climb Stairs and Chase You

U.S. robotics company Boston Dynamics has released new videos showing two of its creations in action. The jumping humanoid Atlas and the doglike SpotMini star in the clips which, depending on your worldview, will be either stunning or haunting.

The first demonstration, uploaded to YouTube on Thursday, shows the yellow robot-dog autonomously navigating a route through an office and a lab facility. It approaches a set of wooden stairs, and without missing a beat clambers up one side and down the other.

"Before the test, the robot is manually driven through the space, so it can build a map of the space using visual data from cameras mounted on the front, back and sides of the robot," Boston Dynamics explained on its YouTube channel. "During the autonomous run, SpotMini uses data from the cameras to localize itself in the map and to detect and avoid obstacles. Once the operator presses 'GO' at the beginning of the video, the robot is on its own."

In the second video, titled "Getting Some Air, Atlas?," the advanced humanoid robot is seen running across a garden. It too demonstrates obstacle awareness by jumping over a wooden log and landing on its metal feet at the other side. Give Atlas a human head and a hip holster, and it's only a few steps removed from being a real-life RoboCop.

Boston Dynamics' creations also include the two-wheeled Handle, designed for rough-terrain; LS3, a hulking beast funded by DARPA and the U.S. Marine Corps to help Marines carry heavy loads; and SandFlea, which looks like a small RC car but is able to leap 10 meters into the air. Earlier this year, the company made headlines after its SpotMini was recorded in a tussle with a human, set up to showcase how it could "adjust to disturbances."

Boston Dynamics' robot SpotMini can climb stairs with ease, as shown in a video uploaded to YouTube on May 10. Boston Dynamics/YouTube

Boston Dynamics, an offshoot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said it aims to build machines that "break boundaries and work in the real world." But some experts in the field warned about the dangers of letting such technology run unchecked, saying advanced robotics mixed with artificial intelligence could be disastrous. In November 2017, a petition calling for a ban on AI weaponization gained some attention.

"As many of the world's top AI and robotics corporations […] have recently urged, autonomous weapon systems threaten to become the third revolution in warfare," five experts from universities and technology firms wrote. "If developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend."

The letter received more than 600 signatures from academics worldwide.

Boston Dynamics
Boston Dynamics' robot Atlas leaps over a wooden log, in a video uploaded to YouTube on May 10. Boston Dynamics/YouTube