Robots That Jump

Robot Bodies Needed Before Robot Minds


I’ve been writing about the (incorrect) direction of much of robotics, along with the fakery which implies robots are more than they are for 15 years. The alternative I’ve pushed is building an agile body over “Ai” or “mind” popular with almost everyone. In my opinion, a mindless body that is physically agile – one that can reproduce the things even simple animals can do on a daily basis – is vastly more useful than a so-called “intelligent” robot.

Well now, Boston Dynamics, which has followed the “body first, then mind” approach, has finally come through. The newest version of the Atlas robot can jump and even do backflips in what looks to be an agile way:

The results are impressive. This is a huge, heavy metal robot showng agility. Small motions of the arms are being used to stabilize, which makes it look like a pretty complex control system. Though I am guessing this is pretty staged (change the box positions and the robot falls), it is a candidate for a true Robot that Jumps.

This follows on other robots designed to imitate living thins, in pursuit of agile behavior.

While these robots are finally meaningful (in terms of being real robots instead of fakey electric puppets), they are far from practical. The biggest issue is power supply – they use IMHO 20-100x times as much power as a comparable animal body to move. Electric battery density simply isn’t high enough for a human-sized robot to remain powered for more than a few minutes at a time. At present, you would probably need to use nuclear power to move these robots for reasonable operations – or big Diesel engines.

The other issue is muscles. Robots using electric motors aren’t very agile. Those using pneumatics can achieve lifelike motion, but it is impractical to power them standalone. I’m guessing the gasoline engines on the early BD robots supplied compression for the leg actuators – NOISY. These are not quiet, like the would be if a human did the same motions. The holy grail – elastic plastic and contractile muscle tissue – is a long way off. You see visions of such muscles in movies like Ghost in the Shell, but they don’t actually exist.

Ghost in the Shell - major shelling sequence

The closest we have is something like this combined electro (heating?) hydraulic muscle:

It took 30 years for walking robots to learn to jump, good muscles may easily take that long.

I’m guessing another 50 before something like Ghost in the Shell could be built.

However, a mental point might have been reached. With the debut of the BD robot, people may be less accepting of the stupid fake robots pedaled at SF conventions as somehow “real” or “the future”.  Mayhaps we’ll start ignoring the “mind without body robot”, typlified by the creepy sexist machines popular in the media:


In a word…this is a big fake puppet implying human abilities that don’t exist. And this machine can’t jump.



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