Boston Dynamics’ Atlas: Forget the Flips. The Big Idea Here Is Balance

It’s easy to get distracted by videos of Boston Dynamic’s hulking humanoid robot doing backflips. But the big deal isn’t the acrobatics, it’s the balance. By GINA SMITH

An earlier version of Gina Smith’s story, below, ran today on our sister site, Check it out here. -Ed


But the sexy thing about Boston Dynamics‘ latest rendition of its huge humanoid Atlas robot entry isn’t the showy gymnastics. Not exactly.


It’s the balance, silly:

The sensitive balancing technology inside Atlas is evidenced in the fact that it can land, flip and land again without (usually) incident. That’s amazing for a two-legged robot, which are notoriously harder to keep on their feet than their four-footed robotic friends.

But there are times you really want a robot to walk more like a human and less like a puppy. You want its hands free, for one thing, and you want it to fit in places where people fit. Boston Dynamics, which has dubbed Atlas “the world’s most dynamic humanoid,” now says the sleeker, more capable Atlas is testing its bipedal limits for a reason: enterprise and industry. s:

“Atlas’ ability to balance while performing tasks allows it to work in a large volume while occupying only a small footprint,” according to the Boston Dynamics website. “Stereo vision, range sensing and other sensors give Atlas the ability to manipulate objects in its environment and to travel on rough terrain. Atlas keeps its balance when jostled or pushed and can get up if it tips over.”

In his whimsical discussion of Atlas over at The Verge, Paul Miller points out that Atlas and other once-precariously balanced bipedal humanoids haven’t always been so … ahem … steady.
“Eleven years ago,” he writes, “we were laughing as Honda’s Asimo robot fell down a flight of stars.”

By 2015, he astutely points out, we were counting robot carcasses all over the place.

His case in point is this video,  a compilation of various robots falling down stairs.

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas, too, has been known to stumble in earlier incarnations …

And another thing: If this robot is able to jump like a human and not lose its cookies in the process, what else can it withstand? Motion, wind, shaky operators, even a nice firm kick?

We’ll be looking into that as soon as they let us near the thing.

For aNewDomain and its new sister sites, DeepSpaceNews and,, I’m Gina Smith.