Engineers have created a lot of robots that look and act like humans, but they've had a hard time figuring out how to keep bots from falling over. That might have changed in 2017 for the once-clumsy bipedal robots.
The interest in bipedal robots has mainly come from companies who want them as part of their workforce, particularly as delivery workers or soldiers. In order to do those jobs, the bots need to be able to move like humans. But engineers have had a hard time creating an algorithm that perfectly mimics human motion, so these bots fall over quite a lot.
But the equipment used to build humanlike robots is becoming cheaper and more effective. Sensors used by robots to detect their surroundings, for example, used to go for as much as $250,000 in 2010. Now, those same sensors only cost about $8,000.
That improved equipment has allowed engineers to re-create human anatomical structures in their robots, which helps them move more easily. One group of Japanese engineers, for instance, created two exercising robots with full musculoskeletal systems, including five-fingered hands, five-toed feet, multijointed spines and robotic "muscles."
And while engineers are pushing their robots to perform more complicated human motions, the new tech is helping bots move with ease. In 2015, Boston Dynamics' Atlas couldn't take more than a few steps without falling. But by 2016, the robot could maintain its balance, as well as open doors. And in 2017, Atlas could even perform a backflip off a platform.
But even with all these improvements, don't expect to see humanoids walking alongside humans anytime soon. Some of these robots still need a human operator to help them if something goes wrong.