Atlas Unplugged: The six-foot-two humanoid robot that might just save your life

From the people who brought you the internet, the latest version of the Atlas robot will be used in its disaster-fighting robotic challenge.

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The upgraded Atlas Unplugged robot. Image: DARPA
The R&D arm of the US Department of Defense has unveiled the latest version of its humanoid robot.

The new robot, dubbed 'Atlas Unplugged', runs entirely on batteries, is controlled via wireless, and doesn't need a safety tether to hold itself up, according to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the organisation which also famously played a role in the creation of the internet.

At 6 feet and 2 inches tall and 245 pounds, the upgraded Atlas is 75 percent new - only the lower legs and feet were carried over from the original design for the robot.

Atlas is a key part of DARPA's Robotic Challenge - a competition the agency hopes could develop robots that could respond to natural and man-made disasters - because Atlas is being used by seven of the teams involved in the competition. While their hardware will come from DARPA, teams will need to create the software needed to power Atlas Unplugged.

The robot now carries a 3.7kWh Li-ion battery pack which should provide enough power for one hour of walking, standing, use of tools, and other movements.

"Basically we have to cut the cord," said DARPA Robotics Challenge programme manager Gill Pratt.

Other major upgrades to Atlas include repositioned shoulders and arms which can move through a larger space; three 'onboard perception' computers for analysing sensor data and task planning; a wireless router in the head for communication; and a new pump to make the robot quieter.

DARPA expects at least twenty teams to compete in the robot challenge finals in June - many of which will be using their own robots - for a chance to win a $2m prize for first place, $1m for second place and $500,000 for third place.

In the competition the robots will have to operate completely without wires, be it power cords or communication cables.

Teams will have to communicate with their robots over a secure wireless network and are not allowed to touch the robot after it begins a run: if a robot falls or gets stuck, it's on its own.

Just to add to the fun DARPA will knock out the communications between the robots and their human operators for up to a minute during the test, with the idea of replicating the conditions that the robots would face going into a disaster zone.

"Spotty communication will force the robots to make some progress on their own during communications blackouts," said DARPA.

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