If this new leaked footage is any indication, it seems like the robot creators at Boston Dynamics finally found a way to improve on humanity’s primitive two-legged design: By adding a pair of wheels to their new self-balancing robot, giving the bot some impressive new capabilities.
Venture Capitalist Steve Jurvetson was at a presentation given by Boston Dynamics’ founder Marc Raibert, who revealed a new two-legged robot called Handle. The bot swaps articulated feet for a pair of wheels that it can balance on like it’s riding a Segway. But while that human transporter is regarded as a genuine failure, this footage—which Boston Dynamics told us was not meant to be seen outside the presentation—shows a sweet robot creation.
Unlike ATLAS, who can carefully walk over uneven terrains, making it ideal for exploring almost any environment on earth, Handle appears to be limited to mostly smooth surfaces, where it can roll with minimal resistance. The trade-off would allow Handle to move much faster and more efficiently, in a factory or warehouse environment where it doesn’t have to worry about ever having to tackle rubble or debris. But as demonstrated in this video, Handle is still able to tackle some obstacles, including leaping over a short wall.
Seemingly designed for carrying objects around, Handle’s ability to self-balance by adjusting its weight also helps it handle heavier things in hand without falling over. In comparison, ATLAS’ torso only has a limited amount of flexibility, limiting what that humanoid can lift while still staying on its feet.
In his presentation, Raibert also mentions that by using wheels, Handle could be built and made available at a much cheaper price point than Boston Dynamics’ other two-legged creations. There is still speculation as to why Alphabet decided to put Boston Dynamics up for sale two years after acquiring it for its now-defunct Replicant division.
Some believe it was because Alphabet had hoped to parlay the company’s advanced research into a consumer-ready product, but eventually realized the development time needed for such complex hardware would be considerably more than just a few years. So as Boston Dynamics waits to hear who its new owner will be, maybe the reveal of Handle will help sweeten the pot for potential buyers.