On Saturday, November 8, the Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition posted a video on its DRCihmcRobotics YouTube channel that brought a bit of nostalgia to a lot of people.
The video, titled “20141108 115244 KarateKid,” revealed Ian, Boston Dynamics‘ Atlas Robot, performing the graceful “crane kick” stance portrayed by Ralph Macchio 30 years ago in the movie “The Karate Kid.”
This pose is considered a tremendous feat for both Google’s Boston Dynamics who developed the robot, and the Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition who built its control algorithm, because Ian weighs 330 pounds, is 6-feet, 2-inches tall, yet the robot was able to display balance, agility and fine motor skills while standing on one leg atop a stack of three concrete blocks. It was also able to fully articulate its arms into several positions required to complete the stance.
Reproducing movie moments isn’t Ian’s only talent. With oversight and funding contributions from the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the teams have been trying to create a robot that can assist humans in areas of rough terrain and dangerous situations usually handled by emergency personnel. As a result, they’ve had to develop Ian to be as humanoid as possible with a wide range of human characteristics and abilities.
Ian possesses a bipedal body with 28 independent hydraulically-actuated joints, a movable head, a laser rangefinder and stereo cameras. These features, as well as special control software, make it possible for the robot to perform many tasks that humans perform every day. In past tests, Ian moved easily through rough terrain, removed objects in its path and manipulated items like power tools. Besides walking, jumping and climbing, Ian has also entered, driven and exited a vehicle.
Although Ian receives power via a tether to an electric generator, the teams have made a lot of changes to its design since they first displayed it to the public on July 11, 2013. Future plans include finding a way to disconnect the the cable and install a portable power source.