Robot Parkour?

Hyundai’s Boston Dynamics has come out with another impressive robot video.

You can watch Atlas maintain balance and do flips better than most human beings can. But the routine actually only has about a 50% success rate. Video performances work out better than live performances in this case.

“The company still has to refine movements that are limited by the very nature of the robots themselves, such as the lack of a spine and the relatively weak arm joints,” Engadget explains.

Creating robots that do impressive stuff in videos is a specialty of Boston Dynamics, we know. Their dancing robots are hugely popular.

Can robots do parkour?

Well, can parrots talk? Stunts like these are part of the perception problem with robots.

Broadly speaking, robots can do a lot of things. They can move things, assemble things, and stack things, all of which are useful factory actions. Can they do parkour or dance as a human can? No. No more than parrots can actually use human language.

For that matter, they also can’t use human language the way people do.

Companies that create impressive robot videos give false impressions of the abilities of their robots. They’re running experiments that are intended one day to improve the balance of robots, for example, so that they could at some point in the future do things that robots cannot currently achieve.

Headlines reporting proof of concept experiments with robots turn up years ahead of actual robots coming to market with those skills. They may keep people excited about possible future uses of robots, or they may make people worry that robots will take their jobs, but they may also make people feel disappointed with what robots can actually do.

Industrial automation

Robots in manufacturing have a major impact on human beings. They reduce the work human beings do in dangerous settings, increase productivity and profits, and also reduce the number of available jobs by a small but steady percentage.

This kind of robot is much more impressive and important than the dancing robots…but they get less attention, too.

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