“Do you love me now that I can dance?” asks a song from 1962. Until recently, science’s most advanced androids would have left viewers scratching their heads at that question. But now a quartet of robots make the answer a resounding “Yes!”
Robotics design company Boston Dynamics posted a video in January. It begins with humanoid bots dancing in a warehouse while workers gawk from behind glass. Two Atlas models scoot, swivel, kick, leap, and caper across the screen. The bots do the twist, the mashed potato, and other classic dance moves to the upbeat tune.
The twirling automatons are joined by Spot, a doglike robot, and Handle, a wheeled bot designed for warehouse work. At one point, Spot appears to sing.
The clip is a playful attempt to close the books on 2020. “Our whole crew got together to celebrate the start of what we hope will be a happier year,” the Waltham, Massachusetts, company says in the video caption.
The video also left folks wondering: Are those adroit androids really busting dance moves? Or is it two and a half minutes of computer-generation?
Thousands of amused online viewers applauded the robots. Others seemed a little frightened by their nimbleness. Responses ranged from “So cute!” to “Slightly creepy.”
Several of the over 25 million viewers said some variation of, “I’ll take two!”
“Do you love me? Not when you come to annihilate us,” tweeted Jan Nicolas, a photographer, speaking from a sci-fi-induced position of fear.
“I already see how in 10 years, this thing will chase me and beat me up,” commented another viewer.
An abundance of examples of computer-generated magic (think Lord of the Rings or almost any space movie) makes some people question their own eyes. Well-known designer-engineer Elon Musk assures, “This is not CGI.”
Many people wonder how bots could go from rough, jerky movements with an inability to balance on two legs to this degree of dexterity so quickly. In 2016, an Atlas robot like one in the video shuffled around and stiffly picked up boxes. Now it glides like a futuristic Fred Astaire. (Ahem … ask your grandparents who that is.)
The technology is mind-boggling. After all, it wasn’t very long ago that engineers were struggling to design robots that mimic the complex movements of God’s creatures. (Read Recreating Nature Is Harder Than It looks.) The progress of the last few years is most impressive.
Someday, robots like Atlas, Handle, or Spot may help save lives in disasters or war zones. For now, these robots definitely have rhythm. And that’s hard not to love.