Boston Dynamics' Atlas is terrible at karate

Boston Dynamics' humanoid Atlas robot has been programmed to perform the iconic 'Karate Kid' crane kick on a tower of cinder blocks.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

If you have ever felt worried that a robot was going to bust into your house and do karate on you, you needn't be worried just yet. We now know what a robot looks like performing martial arts, and it's not particularly terrifying.

The robot -- a humanoid Atlas robot, nicknamed "Ian" -- appeared in a video in which it stands on top of a stack of cinder blocks, poised on one leg like Ralph Macchio's iconic training scene from 1984's 'Karate Kid'.

Ian, however -- standing 6'2" and weighing in at a hefty 150 kilograms and tethered to the ceiling as a safety measure against unbalancing while it performs its moves -- isn't quite as nimble as Daniel-san as it slowly manoeuvres its leg into the air, using an algorithm written by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.

But Ian's purpose is rather more benign than beating up humans using karate anyway. The gentle giant, which has been performing splendidly in the international Robotics Challenge, is part of an effort to create robots that can replace humans in dangerous situations and roles, such as firefighting, search and rescue, and other tasks.

Ian's body contains 28 hydraulic actuators for a range of movement, and is equipped with two cameras in its head, as well as a laser range finder. Its bipedal form should see the robot able to traverse difficult terrain, and its articulated hands able to grasp and use tools designed for human use. At the moment, it needs to be tethered to an external power supply, which is a limitation that Boston Dynamics hopes to solve.

Also jumping, which action you might note missing from the crane kick below. It's not exactly easy for robots to jump in the first place, let alone land. Whether or not the IHMC team plans to teach Ian to jump, we're not certain, but it seems nature rules robots, too. First learn stand, then learn fly.

If you watch the video below, make sure you turn the sound down first.