RIP Atlas, the world's strongest humanoid robot

Atlas, the hulking 330-pound Boston Dynamics acrobatic robot (that filled us with equal parts awe and horror) is officially retiring. The 11-year-old iconic two-pedal giant is being replaced by a much lighter, fully electric successor. The transition marks the end of an era for Boston Dynamics, as consumer and investor interest increasingly focuses on smaller, scalable humanoid robots that can perform manufacturing tasks.

Boston Dynamics commemorated the original 'Hydraulic Atlas' with one farewell video this week. The video shows Atlas sprinting through an obstacle course before falling awkwardly to the ground. What follows is a collection of some of Atlas' biggest hits over its eleven-year existence. Video clips show that the robot evolved over the years from a stiff, slow piece of metal into a powerful robotic athlete capable of performing backflips and hurling large objects with seemingly superhuman strength. Of course, the video also shows Boston Dynamics engineers relentlessly showing, attacking, and tripping Atlas over the years to test its capabilities.

Atlas was original produced in 2013 for the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Agency. At the time, DARPA called Atlas “one of the most advanced humanoid robots ever built.” The impressive and often imposing machine went viral on the internet with a collection of eye-catching videos showing it engaging in a variety of activities from wild acrobatics And synchronized dance routines Unpleasant over-the-top construction site work.

Robot's photo

Robot's photo

Boston Dynamics focuses on lighter, more commercial humanoid robots

In a surprise announcement Wednesday, Boston Dynamics revealed that Atlas' name will actually live on, albeit in a very different form factor. Company released a short video show what appears to be a match for a smaller, bipedal robot with a round head lying on the floor of a test room.

Robot's photo

In a blog post, the company described this new successor as a “fully electric Atlas robot designed for real-world applications.” The company says the new Atlas will have a wider range of motion than its predecessor. Hyundai, which one acquired Boston Dynamics in 2021will begin testing the new Atlas at its factories in the coming months, according to the blog post.

Commercialization and long-term scalability appear to have been the main factors driving the retirement of the old Atlas. Since the Hyundai issue, Boston Dynamics has pushed to sell other, more affordable products at scale, such as the 'Spot' quadruped and the 'Stretch' warehouse robot. The old Atlas, on the other hand, was never sold commercially and may simply have cost too much for a manufacturer to justify purchasing it. Boston Dynamics hinted at its commercial plans for the new Atlas in its most recent press release.

“Given our track record of successful commercialization, we are confident in our plan to not only create an impressive R&D project, but also deliver a valuable solution,” the company said.

Despite being primarily an R&D tool, the original Atlas still played an important symbolic role and acted as a technical ceiling for what other bipedal robots could achieve. Its prominence has helped usher in a new wave of humanoid robots from startups like Figure and Agility Robotics, which aim to combine robotics with large language models to make them more useful in completing tasks in the real world. Ironically, it looks like the new Atlas will now compete with the upstarts inspired by its predecessor.

[ Related: OpenAI wants to make a walking, talking humanoid robot smarter ]

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