Now the robots are taking our funk!

It was bad enough when they were just taking our jobs, but now this?

P.S. This is a cute video, but I’m not impressed. This is a machine making pre-programmed moves. I’ll worry when they start spontaneously breaking out novel dance moves in sync with music.


  1. says

    I dunno, pre-programming aside, doing that without falling over is still pretty impressive. Even if you gave me all the moves mapped out ahead of time, I couldn’t do that without acquiring some serious contusions.

  2. brutus says

    As demonstration of an achieved technical feat, I’m a whole lot happier seeing a robot (dog?) shake its booty than in military attack mode. Everyone knows that second thing is coming, too. Can it (or its programmers) be accused of cultural appropriation? This sort of spectacle is always suspiciously lowbrow. Sorta begs the question “why?”

  3. erichoug says

    Their tech is actually pretty impressive. The recovery of stability on their units from unexpected bumps or kicks or other things is amazing. It is extremely difficult to have code do that. But, they have made it work.

  4. Corey Fisher says

    As mentioned above, this is pretty impressive on their end, honestly, it’s smooth and balances well. Stuff like this may not be hitting creativity or motion planning problems as much, but Boston Dynamics has been doing really impressively with just driving the core fundamentals of “smoothly functioning robot chassis” so that the rest will be all the more impressive when it happens.

  5. Compuholic says

    You need to keep in mind that these systems are not pre-programmed in the sense that they are simply following a pre-programmed trajectory. Imagine how hard it would be to program something like the moonwalk in the video. You could tell the motors how you want the legs to move, but that doesn’t mean that the robot would move in the way you want it to. You need to anticipate friction (which depending on the surface it not entirely predictable). A failure to correctly predict friction would result in unwanted acceleration of the robot which in turn means that you have to adjust other limbs to compensate for that. And the effects of their movements are also not 100% predictable and your program needs to correct for that as well. And you might be able to imagine that this is an endless task.

    Instead programming the movements they are using machine learning. The robot gets an objective function that it needs to optimize. In a way, this objective function is the pre-programmed part which describes the desired body pose but how the robot gets there is not determined in advance.

  6. steveht says

    I don’t know … isn’t choreography just pre-programming moves?
    Color me impressed.
    Plus it’s fun!

  7. Mark Jacobson says

    I think as a developmental biologist PZ’s standards for behavioral complexity have been set ridiculously high. Our machines can’t compare to life yet, but I we’re doing pretty good considering life’s several billion year head start!

  8. John Morales says

    Watched it. Muted the noise, once it was established it was following a rhythm.

    Good dynamics, but not very impressive regarding actual capability.

    Bah to this dancing stuff; more obstacle courses, more implicit sparring would be nice.

    Some interaction with another agent, maybe.

    As PZ notes, it’s a chassis, not an AI. Not humaniform, either, for pragmatism.

  9. says

    You know what else can walk? A fruit fly. It can also fly and do courtship dances and mate and find food and eat. And it does it all with a microscopic strip of neurons.

    Robots are at a point where we’re impressed when they don’t fall over.

  10. John Morales says

    But they’re effectively proof of concept for viable ground drones, so there’s that.

  11. Mark Jacobson says

    You’re laughing now PZ, but give humanity a few more decades and I bet they’ll have machines which can almost compete favorably with some of C. elegans’ behavioral repertoire. Then we’ll see who’s laughing.

  12. robro says

    Sadly I can’t get the movie to play. I’m getting a “500 Internal Server Error” with a message about “A team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation.”

    Brutus @ #3

    I’m a whole lot happier seeing a robot (dog?) shake its booty than in military attack mode. Everyone knows that second thing is coming, too.

    It’s my understanding that Boston Dynamic’s research has been funded by DoD, so attack mode is more the first thing than the second. They’ve been working on ground transport systems for field units for a while. They’ve made progress but there have been obstacles including stability, reliability in unknown terrain, and noise…if you’re mule makes a lot of clanking noises, the bad guys know you’re coming. Not good.

    Of course, if they got such systems working there might be more practical uses, such as helping fire fighters with the heavy lifting in remote forests.

  13. consciousness razor says

    and noise…if you’re mule makes a lot of clanking noises, the bad guys know you’re coming. Not good.

    That’s why you drown it out with some Bruno Mars pop-funk. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition that.

  14. =8)-DX says

    Yes, watch the prototype murder-robots dance, watch them dance!

    AFAIK though, although this would be a pre-programmed sequence, the balancing and carrying out of those individual moves in real time is the result of machine learning, heavy computing power and superprecise motion and balance sensor technology.

    Sad thing is there doesn’t seem to be any danger of a robot uprising in the next few decades, but those things will be used in warzones and for the violent control of populations. If only we could abolish capitalism..

  15. Bill Buckner says

    but I’m not impressed

    Well, that reflects very badly on you. It is a person dismissing, in ignorance I guess, the amazing advances in robotics, both in hardware and software, represented by this demo.

    Robots are at a point where we’re impressed when they don’t fall over.

    Oh FFS. There is a fucking Golden Gate technological bridge between “not falling over” and what this robot is doing.

    One could reasonably criticize the (I suspect) marketing-driven nature of the demo, but the technology is world class.

  16. davidnangle says

    =8)-DX: “If only we could abolish capitalism.”

    That would, in one step, remove the teeth of the most powerful and evil in the world. However, any attempt at achieving it would engage everything up to and including every last soldier in the world to stop us.

  17. trollofreason says

    I’m impressed. The legs are both strong & responsive, while the arm is incredibly precise. Meanwhile, the actual moves might be programmed, but I’m far more interested in the autonomic software & hardware. Multiple shifts in the center of gravity, & it doesn’t wobble.

    PZ may cite fruit flies as a diminutive of the achievements, but a fruit fly is much more complex & smaller in scale.

  18. ridana says

    Well thanks. Now I have acapellascience’s “Pluto Mars: Outbound Probe” stuck in my head for the last 24 hours. No, seriously, thanks. I love his version. :D I’ve been dancing all over the house to it.

    As for the bot, I’m impressed. I’m even more impressed with the humanoid bot they’ve got that can do basic parkour moves, including a backflip. Wish I could do that.