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Boston Dynamics’ video shows robot carrying tool bag, moving objects on mock construction site

Atlas, a humanoid robot designed by Boston Dynamics.Boston Dynamics/Youtube

In a sleek new video, Boston Dynamics seems to be hinting at a future for its high-tech robots: putting them to work in settings where heavy labor is required.

In the latest demo of the bipedal robot called Atlas, the machine is seen in a mock construction site demonstrating its new abilities, throwing a tool bag and moving wooden objects with its rudimentary grippers. It also performs its signature abilities of running and jumping over the terrain.

As the robot clutches the tool bag, it deftly runs up a set of stairs, pivots to toss the bag to a person on top of a scaffold, and finishes with a gymnastics-like flip and pose.


“Such a show-off,” says the worker who had left his set of tools on the ground below.

Though similar in many ways to popular YouTube videos that have highlighted Boston Dynamics’ dancing and jumping robots, the new clip is “meant to communicate an expansion of the research that we’re doing on Atlas,” said Scott Kuindersma, the Atlas team lead, in a behind-the-scenes video about the development of the robot.

“We’re not just thinking about how to make the robot move dynamically through its environment, like we did in parkour and dance, now we’re starting to put Atlas to work and think about how the robot should be able to perceive and manipulate objects in its environment,” Kuindersma said.

In the video, which has racked up nearly 2 million views since it was posted Wednesday, Atlas surveys its landscape and moves objects to navigate the construction site.

Unlike the commercial products sold by Boston Dynamics — including Spot and Stretch — Atlas is a research platform “designed to push the limits of whole-body mobility,” according to the company’s website.

While having a robot perform a backflip may have little value in a commercial setting, if the machines “can eventually respond to their environments with the same level of dexterity as the average adult human,” the range of potential applications could be extensive, a blog post about Atlas reads.


As Boston Dynamic sees it, humanoid robots should be able to perform all the tasks humans can.

“I think what we’re focusing [on] right now for real-world applications for this kind of robot [are] things like moving objects that are pretty heavy, especially in environments where it’s either too dangerous for humans or where it’s just generally something people don’t want to be doing,” Robin Deits, a software engineer at Boston Dynamics, said in the behind-the-scenes video.

Whether the world is ready for that might be a different story. On Twitter, many reacted to the video with their usual skepticism — and fear. David Leavitt, a multimedia journalist, went so far to say that “these ‘Boston Dynamics’ robots are going to kill us all.”

Others were more excited, with one person saying that they could watch “videos of Atlas all day.”

See more reactions to Atlas:

Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.