I ROBOT


Robot mobility took some steps (bounds? gallops?) forward this week.  Dynamics, a robotics company, released a YouTube video to introduce the world to “WildCat,” the company’s four-legged robot that runs at about 16 miles per hour. Boston Dynamics is developing WildCat with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which commissions research for the Department of Defense.

WildCat is the successor to last year’s super-fast Cheetah — a robot that could run at 28.3 mph, a bit faster than Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt. Unlike Cheetah, WildCat can run without being tethered to a power source from an extension cord.

But there’s more! Boston Dynamics also debuted a clip this week of its humanoid robot ATLAS tip-toeing over a bed of rocks. It’s not as awesome/terrifying as the teatherless WildCat, but given how elusive bipedal balance is in robots, ATLAS’ agile walk across a stony surface is a pretty big deal.

As with all good robot advances, the revelations by Boston Dynamics have prompted robot apocalypse hysteria. Business Insider called WildCat “creepy,” while Gizmodo said of Atlas that “by sometime next summer it should be graduating college with all the tools it needs to start usurping humanity.” It probably doesn’t help that DARPA has commissioned some other seriously crazyprojects in the past.

But neither WildCat nor ATLAS are quite ready for the apocalypse yet. WildCat may be autonomous (until it runs out of gasoline), but it’s hardly subtle — its legs are ungainly; the motor loud. As for ATLAS, well, it’s tethered to a power cord — for now.

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