Boston Dynamics released a new version of Atlas, their cutting edge robot that is able to accurately traverse obstacles. Atlas stands 5’9” tall and weighs 180 lbs. The robot, shown in the video below, is electrically powered and hydraulically actuated. It uses a suite of sensors to consistently find balance making it capable of moving through difficult environments.

The main sensor used for detecting Atlas's surroundings is LIDAR (a portmanteau of “light” and radar”). The LIDAR system uses a laser and a rotating mirror to emit pulsing beams. These beams are reflected off near by objects and received by photodetectors back on the robot. Distances of objects can then be calculated by using the travel time of the beam.  The picture above is a visualization of a LIDAR system analyzing surrounding terrain and mapping various distances with different colors. Far away being colored blue while up close being yellow and light green. The live data is calculated concurrently with GPS and an inertial measurement unit (IMU), giving the Atlas a real time responsive capability.  The real time data gathering integrated with the mechanical response capability is the innovative feature of Atlas.

Pick your students minds! The programing of the Atlas has to calculate the appropriate amount of force to stay balanced from an outside excitation (with distance being a given thanks to LIDAR).  Ask your students what other physics equations could be involved and other instruments that could help gather data to calculated those equations . A few of the equations that we thought of are listed below.


Newtons Second Law

Conservation of momentum

Angular velocity