Experimenting with robots at the scale Boston Dynamics does makes public blunders inevitable. But when a company previously owned by Google and now by SoftBank messes up on cam, the footage usually goes viral on the next day. Somehow, this isn’t what happened with the Atlas.
A little over a month ago, Boston Dynamics founder and CEO Marc Raibert was honored to present what the company has been working on in a brief demonstration at this year’s Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders.
The highlight was supposed to be a live expo showcasing the new and improved Atlas and SpotMini robots. The demonstration involved an interaction between the two machines in which the SpotMini was operated by a human, while the Atlas relied on its built-in cameras to autonomously react to its environment.
The purpose of the exercise was to exhibit Atlas’ ability to use computer vision to lock onto objects and then move them with its robo-arms.
To make this task a tad bit more entertaining, anytime the Atlas would come close to picking up the object, a human would instruct the SpotMini to pull the target away from the Atlas, prompting it to perform the same task again.
After toying around with the Atlas for a little longer, Raibert and company eventually allowed the robot to pick up the box and earn its standing ovation from the audience.
This is when the massive gaffe happened.
Boston Dynamics sometimes lets its robots walk off stage on their own – with a little help from human operators. But things didn’t quite go as planned on that particular day.
Heading off stage, the Atlas – now fully operated by a human – accidentally tripped over a light projector and took a loud tumble down the set. The crowd reacted unanimously with an equally raucous ‘oof,’ while flustered Boston Dynamics reps hurried around to cover up the flub-up.
But while mistakes happen, what is strikes me as odd in this case is how little attention the incident seems to have attracted so far.
The Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders took place more than a month ago between June 29 and July 1. The footage of the Atlas blunder made it to YouTube practically on the next day. But somehow nobody saw it.
The reason I find this so unusual is because the internet loves robot fails.
This video, for instance, was viewed well over two million times.
A year ago, a robot designed by Russian robomaker Promobot reportedly escaped the company’s facilities, before it eventually ran out of battery approximately 50 meters into its getaway and ended up in the middle of the road.
In a more recent robo-fail, a security robot in Washington DC took an unexpected dip in a mall fountain after its computer vision systems missed to detect the fountain stairs.
Both incidents went viral, but for some reason – the Atlas fail didn’t. When innovators – like Boston Dynamics – err at the forefront of technology, we should be able to celebrate their mistakes and laugh them off in good spirits.
And that’s what this piece is about.
This glorious goof needs to receive the attention it deserves. It’s just too funny to fade out in oblivion. Long live the Atlas… Can’t wait to see your next fuck-up.