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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Atlas ~ the new age Robo Sapien unveiled....

In Greek mythology, Atlas was the primordial Titan who held up the celestial sphere. He is also the titan of astronomy and navigation. There have been science fictions on robots taking over mankind… worst feared being the humanoids. A humanoid robot is a robot with its body shape built to resemble that of the human. We all saw and were thrilled by the Rajnikanth starrer ‘Enthiran’ released in 2010 directed by Shankar. The plot was provided Srirangam Rangarajan [Sujatha] who unfortunately was not there to see the film’s success.  The story revolved  around the scientist's struggle to control his creation, the android robot whose software was upgraded to give it the ability to comprehend and generate human emotions. The plan backfires as the robot falls in love with the scientist's fiancée and is further manipulated to bring destruction to the world when it lands in the hands of a rival scientist.

The robot  Chitti, its movements and the way it starts interacting with humans was well narrated and portrayed.  Scientifically, a humanoid design might be for functional purposes, such as interacting with human tools and environments, for experimental purposes, such as the study of bipedal locomotion, or for other purposes. In general, humanoid robots have a torso, a head, two arms, and two legs, though some forms of humanoid robots may model only part of the body and may not look as beautiful as its human counterparts. Androids are humanoid robots built to aesthetically resemble humans.

The concept does not belong to this century ~ Leonardo da Vinci made reference to a humanoid automaton designed  centuries ago. These were rediscovered during the mid of the last century.  It is stated that Leonardo displayed his "robot" at a celebration hosted by Ludovico Sforzaat the court of Milan in 1495. The robot knight could stand, sit, raise its visor and independently maneuver its arms. The entire robotic system was operated by a series of pulleys and cables. Since the discovery of the sketchbook, the robot has been built faithfully based on Leonardo's design; this proved it was fully functional, as Leonardo had planned. The robot clad in German-Italian medieval armour, was able to make several human-like motions.

The step-by-step making of Chitti and how it develops its functions; and how it passes the tests of other Officers including those who do not want it to succeed, were interestingly depicted in the film ‘Enthiran’……. Sure, we would love to see a formidable person who can stand upright even when slammed by heavy objects, walk up on difficult terrains, climb over obstacles, walk through fire and more… and more impressive if he were to be taller than 6 feet weigh more than  150kg, stretch his arm far wide and still move with speed and alacrity.  The two-metre tall robot was created as a test bed for a US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency challenge. The Darpa challenge demands the the robot completes eight tasks that it might have to perform in an emergency. Lot is expected of him as he could pave way for intelligent machines helping in the wake of natural disasters and terror strikes.  It is ‘Atlas’ !!

Atlas is a bipedal humanoid robot primarily developed by the American robotics company Boston Dynamics, with funding and oversight from the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The 6-foot (1.8 m) robot is designed for a variety of search and rescue tasks, and was unveiled to the public on July 11, 2013. Six teams have until December 2013 to develop software that will help Atlas complete the tasks. Like a human, Atlas has two arms and legs and gets around by walking. It sees using a stereo laser scanning system and has gripping hands developed by two separate robotics companies. Unlike humans, it has a high speed networking system built-in so it can communicate with its creators and pipe data back from disaster areas. Before now, the teams taking part in the robotic challenge have only worked with virtual versions of Atlas. In the next stage of the competition, algorithms and control programs for the virtual Atlas will be transferred to the real thing. The teams will then have five months to refine Atlas's abilities before taking part in a series of trials. During those, a tethered version of Atlas will be expected to complete tasks which include driving a car, removing debris blocking doors. climbing a ladder, finding and closing a valve and connecting a fire hose.

In 2014, Atlas robots programmed by six different teams will compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge to test the robot's ability to perform various tasks, including getting in and out of a vehicle and driving it, opening a door, and using a power tool. A variety of other robots will also compete. The contest was inspired by the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and carries a US$2 million prize for the winning team.  Atlas is intended to aid emergency services in search and rescue operations, performing tasks such as shutting off valves, opening doors and operating powered equipment in environments where humans could not survive.The Department of Defense has stated that it has no interest in using the robot for offensive or defensive warfare. The New York Times said that its debut was "a striking example of how computers are beginning to grow legs and move around in the physical world", describing the robot as "a giant – though shaky – step toward the long-anticipated age of humanoid robots."

So a new species, Robo sapiens,  has now emerged… !!!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

24th July 2013.


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