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Be afraid: DARPA unveils Terminator-like Atlas robot

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Robot-at-arms: Atlas is 6 foot, 2 inches tall and weighs 330 pounds. (Credit: DARPA/Boston Dynamics)

Atlas looks like the prototype for a future robot infantryman, and it can tackle rough terrain and carry human tools. Can you say "Skynet"?

By Tim Hornyak, CNET

If you're short of nightmare fuel, say hello to Atlas.

On Thursday, DARPA unveiled this hulking, 6-foot robot developed by Boston Dynamics, creator of the infamous BigDog and other scary creatures. Surprisingly, the 330-pound terror is designed to help us meatsacks.

Atlas is a testbed humanoid for disaster response, but it looks like it knows its way around a phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range. Fortunately, it comes from Massachusetts, not the future.

We've seen hints of Atlas with Boston Dynamics' Petman soldier robot, which can do pushups and run on a treadmill.

Whereas that humanoid was designed to test chemical protection clothing, Atlas is altogether different. It's designed to not only walk and carry things, but can travel through rough terrain outdoors and climb using its hands and feet.

"Articulated, sensate hands will enable Atlas to use tools designed for human use," Boston Dynamics says. "Atlas includes 28 hydraulically actuated degrees of freedom, two hands, arms, legs, feet, and a torso."

Its head includes stereo cameras and a laser range finder. It's tethered to an off-board, electric power supply -- at least that's one weakness.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge is designed to help evolve machines that can cope with disasters and hazardous environments like nuclear power plant accidents.

The seven teams currently in the challenge will get their own Atlas bot and then program it until December, when trials will be held at the Homestead Miami Speedway in Florida.

They will be presented with tasks such as driving a utility vehicle, walking over uneven terrain, clearing debris, breaking through a wall, closing a valve, and connecting a fire hose.

Meanwhile, check out Atlas' other weakness in the vid below -- it's got an unstoppable desire to groove. As the English playwright William Congreve observed, music has charms to soothe the savage robot.

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