Your greatest fear has been confirmed: When the day comes, robots will now have no trouble getting past any obstacle you put in their way. Your best hope is their tyranny will be swift and their new-world order merciful.
What’s the source of our inevitable doom? New research out of the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition. The lab focuses on the ways robots and technology will interact with humans, and a video released Nov. 29 by the team shows its researchers have figured out a way to ensure a robot can walk over very difficult terrain.
The IHMC researchers have been working with an Atlas robot, made by Alphabet subsidiary Boston Dynamics, for years, and used it to enter the Pentagon’s DARPA Robotics Challenge last year. The challenge was designed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to simulate a range of situations a rescue robot might encounter during a disaster, and IHMC’s robot finished second. None of the robots that entered fared particularly well, however, with many of them falling over at just about every possible opportunity, and even the best teams taking far longer to complete tasks than a human might have.
But IHMC has spent its time since the competition improving its robot's abilities. It taught it how to do chores, and is now teaching it to walk over the exact sorts of terrains it and all the bots struggled with at the robotics challenge. The robot can now walk over uneven surfaces by first testing out where to put its feet, much like a trepidatious human might. It has no knowledge of what’s in front of it before it steps out, but can balance itself and proceed forward with relative ease.
That being said, the Atlas bot is still, thankfully, rather slow, meaning if it were to rise up and try to take down its masters, they could probably just walk away from it. But it may not be long before these robots will be able to run over these broken steps with ease, and given all the abuse we’ve handed down to their brothers, they’re unlikely to show us clemency.