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Next-Gen Robot Walks Like a Man, Stands Up to Being Pushed

FILE - An earlier version of Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot opens a door during the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotic Challenge in Pomona, California, June 6, 2015.

If you're not completely heartless, it can be difficult to watch the newest version of the Atlas robot get bullied, teased and pushed around without feeling a twinge of discomfort.

That's how gracefully and disconcertingly human this Boston Dynamics robot manages to look as it navigates the uneven snow-covered terrain of New England and gets literally shoved around by its human overlords..

Moving beyond the 'wow' factor, the robot's ability to adapt to uncertain footing and human bullying is an important advance in the abilities of the Atlas.

Free to roam

Atlas' sure-footedness is thanks in part to what engineers call 'compensatory systems.' These are the robotic versions of the systems humans have evolved to stay upright when we lose our balance.

But getting these highly complex body weight manipulations to work in a robot is a big step forward for this Next-Gen Atlas.

Information is a bit thin, but the spec sheet on the Atlas gives us a few other clues as to what this robot is all about.

First of all, it's pretty light for a big metal robot, weighing in at a manageable 80kg.

It's also fairly unintimidating, standing only about 1.7 meters.

Among its cool features are "sensate hands" which will allow Atlas to use tools designed for human use.

A big improvement

The older version of the Atlas was a "robot apocalypse" conspiracy nut's worst nightmare.

It weighed a hulking 150kg and stood over 1.8 meters tall.

The other big improvement in the latest Atlas is that it's not tethered. There are no cords or cables to keep this robotic acrobat from exploring all kinds of terrain.

Its designers hope that will allow Atlas to head fearlessly into dangerous search and rescue operations too dodgy for humans.

In the video, the Atlas is seen carrying 4.5-kilogram boxes, and it's unclear how much more weight it can handle.

Hidden in the press release is this little tidbit that seems just shy of amazing: "In extremely challenging terrain, Atlas is strong and coordinated enough to climb using hands and feet, to pick its way through congested spaces."

Let's see some video of that please.

But for the sake of humanity, management urges the engineers to be a bit nicer to Atlas, just in case.

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    Kevin Enochs

    Kevin Enochs is an award-winning content creator who has been explaining the intricacies of the natural world to television and online audiences for over 20 years.

    He perfected his craft working for CNN and the National Geographic Channel before heading to the Voice of America in 2012.