An amazing robot

Meet “Handle”, the kind of robot we only dreamed about as kids (well, if you’re as old as I). It’s just now been introduced to the world by Boston Dynamics, and the YouTube notes say this:

Handle is a research robot that combines the efficiency of wheels with the versatility of legs. It stands 6.5 ft tall, travels at 9 mph and jumps 4 feet vertically. It uses electric power to operate both electric and hydraulic actuators, with a range of about 15 miles on one battery charge. Handle uses many of the same dynamics, balance and mobile manipulation principles found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only about 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex. Wheels work efficiently on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs Handle can have the best of both worlds.

 There’s a bit more from New Atlas:

Raibert says the robot can “carry a reasonably heavy load on a small footprint” and is essentially an exercise to test the potential for developing a humanoid robot that has less degrees of freedom than a walking robot, and is therefore cheaper to produce, while still retaining comparable mobility capabilities.

This is clearly not yet at the stage where it can replace people, but it’s on the way. I can think of lots of stuff Handle could do, much of which would take jobs away from people: tasks include rendering bombs harmless (we have robots for that already, but this one’s better), going into hostage or crime situations instead of sending in a live human, filling up the baskets for Amazon orders, picking out library books from a stack (we have a semi-automated system to do that at my University), help disabled people, and so on. I’m sure readers can think of more applications.

I was stupified when I saw it jump at the end (1:26 on).

h/t: Michael


  1. rickflick
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to see how she could do on ice skates.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Looks like a lot more than 9 miles per. I think it was in rabbit to show off. Surprised the military hasn’t already got a division of these things.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted February 27, 2017 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      From somewhere I recall that rattlesnakes strike @ 7mph.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 28, 2017 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      Boston Dynamics have been working steel-fist-in-velvet-glove with the military for years. They started off with the sort of robot you see blowing the door locks off a suspiciously parked car before rummaging around in the interior. About the same time they produced the Roomba – not sure if they span that off.
      Don’t you worry about it – you’ll see these things packing ammunition to the front line gunners before you see them picking the injured out of earthquake debris.

      • rickflick
        Posted February 28, 2017 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        I’m sure your prognostications are spot on, but I can foresee the day (maybe some time off yet) when these Boston Scientific things will take over the tasks of our current front line grunts. Then gradually they will begin to appear as team leaders, Sergeants, Navy seals, and tank commanders, and jet pilots. At some point they will be attending the military academies and populating the upper ranks as well. Eventually, there may be a smattering of synthetic Generals and Admirals, don’t you think? Perhaps the biggest improvement in human civilization occurs when they take over for politicians and occupy the congress, the judiciary, and, yes, they could improve lives immensely when we see our first Boston Scientific POTUS.

        • Posted February 28, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

          At least when it gets to be an officer, it will, even by US standards, be subject to the Nuremberg principle of being able to refuse unlawful orders.

  3. Merilee
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink


  4. Adam M.
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    The robot is very cool, and much less creepy than Boston Dynamics’ previous headless dog robot.

    Nonetheless, I wish we had the political will to outlaw the replacement of humans in fields where a large number of qualified, unemployed people exist (except perhaps where the use of robots is critical to save a lot of lives). There’s just no social benefit to throwing millions of people out of work in the coming wave of automation. It’ll just increase income inequality further, along with all its attendant social ills.

    People say we should retrain low-skilled workers for high-skilled work but, leaving aside the question of whether that’s even possible given the reality of the IQ curve (about 50 million people in the USA with an IQ under 85), the socially responsible approach is to educate them first and only then take away their jobs, not throw them out of work and then tell them to somehow get a new education.

    Anyway, I agree it’s an amazing robot.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted February 27, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      Know what you are saying but change is the name of the game. You do need people to manufacture Robots and maintain them. There are lots of trades that will remain, such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters, appliance repair, brick layers, cement work and more. The thing is, we need to get people into these fields during and after high school. Everyone is not for college and that is okay.
      Also, lots of new jobs we don’t even know about yet.

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted February 27, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      Legislation would be akin to sticking fingers in a hole in a wall to hold back the sea. Like communism it can work only if the whole World adopted that system.

    • Posted February 27, 2017 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      “…much less creepy than Boston Dynamics’ previous headless dog robot.”
      Maybe creepy is good if you’re sending the robot in to deal with a religious-zealot hostage-taker…

    • Posted February 27, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      Oh, don’t worry.

      Long before this robot or its descendants make any significant impact on the workforce, driverless cars (and trucks and…) will have automated out of existence the largest remaining single sector.

      And, at the same time, IBM and Google will automate out of existence most of the high-paying professional jobs, including doctors and lawyers.

      (The latter might sound absurd and shocking, but my own career has been a single exercise in automating out of existence the jobs of literally dozens of accountants — something only marginally less remarkable, superficially, and I’m a loooooong way from the big leagues.)

      It’s happening, and it’s happening faster than almost anybody realizes.

      And it’ll simultaneously be a force for unprecedented social change and upheaval…and, overall, a really good thing.

      Past exercises in automation have given us the reworking of the manufacturing sector. On the one hand, there used to be hundreds of highly-skilled manual labors on the assembly line floor, now there’s just a few supervising the robots. On the other, cars to day are dramatically cheaper and superior to those of the past. And compare the pictures of telephone switchboards with row after row of (mostly women) operators routing calls with today’s smartphone.

      There’s been enough work needing to be done in the past that we could absorb those put out of work. But those limits are being stretched — and the extreme profit-taking by upper management at the expense of workers certainly isn’t helping.

      But we’re now at the point, very soon, where you simply can’t have your manufacturing job automated by a robot and be able to fall back on becoming a taxi driver if nothing else. When all the taxis are driven by robots, what jobs do the now-unemployed taxi drivers get? Checkout clerk at a supermarket with self-checkout registers? Warehouse drone at an all-roboticized Amazon facility?

      There’ll still be jobs no robot can do, at least for some time. But there’ll also be far, far more people needing to live and eat than there’ll be work needing to be done. And so dramatically so that there’s no possibility of pretending otherwise.

      At that point, capitalism simply breaks down. What to replace it with isn’t yet obvious, but something like a Basic Income seems like a good start.

      But we’ll soon be at a point where we don’t actually need everybody to work…which means that we’ll have to figure out how people can live without working.

      Society will be much, much better without the Protestant work ethic as the unquestionable holy dictate. The only question is how we’ll make that transition, and what we’ll transition to.



      • Charles Minus
        Posted February 27, 2017 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        Yes, capitalism absolutely breads down at this point. Robots can do just about anything except create value. Previous advances have been labor saving devices; robotics and automation are labor replacing devices. People have seen this breakup coming for a long time, example, Jeremy Rifkin’s 1994 book, _The End of Work_. The basic capitalist agreement between worker and capitalist, i.e. I’ll work for you, you feed me, has broken. Where do we go now? Maybe Donald Trump and/or climate change make the question moot.

        • Craw
          Posted February 27, 2017 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

          Machines have never replaced labor just “saved” it? In a giant labor piggy bank?

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted February 28, 2017 at 7:01 am | Permalink

          Robots can do just about anything except create value.

          I strongly suspect that you’re incorrect at this date, and I’m certain (pick as many cards as you want from the pack, they’re all ‘9’s and I’ve started the probability estimate with “0.9” ; add what you want) you’re wrong for the future.

      • Zach
        Posted February 27, 2017 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

        I, for one, have never been a big fan of the Protestant work ethic. Bring on robot slaves and 20-hour weeks!

      • Randy schenck
        Posted February 27, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

        Live without work. I think they call that a government job. Just a joke, although I somewhat, worked for the govt. and it was work.

        Some businesses like building cars has automated a whole lot but others, like warehousing still require lots of workers. It has been automated but still takes lots of people to operate.

        Notice they are trying to get rid of people at the checkout in stores but that is only partly successful.

        I will have to see trucking automated before I can believe it. Taking the driver out altogether is still a long way off. Running down the road at 60 mph and 60,000 pounds. Backing up at the dock with a rig 70 feet long. And who unload, a robot?

        • loren russell
          Posted February 28, 2017 at 1:39 am | Permalink

          Randy, If you’re paying attention [try this week’s NYT magazine for starts], automation is poised to take off in warehousing, and auto-trucking is past the demonstration stage. For that matter, brick laying does seem a perfectly automatable job.. And in each case [see NYT again], the near point isn’t always doing away with bricklayers, but letting one bricklayer supervise 3 bricklaying machines — and get about half what the old trade provided.

          I find your comments here thoughtlessly dismissive. Like the “Malthus has always been wrong, so will be always..”

          The decline in blue-collar compensation led to Trump but not to a self-correcting system. What’s the fix — hard to tell, but one part of it is the sort of social contract that seems possible for homo sapiens only in small, prosperous, ethnically uniform, and mostly post-Christian societies.

          • FiveGreenLeafs
            Posted February 28, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink


            When it comes to automation for vehicles, I think that is now almost a given within a few years. Trucks, taxis, buses, trains etc.

            Automation of stores for food etc, is just around the corner as well.

            And as you say in many other areas, there will (I think) be a gradual phasing out of human workers.

            For example, I would not be surprised if houses (to an ever larger degree then today) will be build as modules, where individual modules are manufactured by robots in factories, and then shipped and just assembled by workers on site.

            I think that countries like Japan and Korea actually are in a golden position here, with their falling birth rates, homogeneous population and a culture that values education and learning and highly effective school systems.

            Europe and the US on the other hand, are more and more looking like impending unstoppable train-crashes in slow motion…

            • John Frum
              Posted February 28, 2017 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

              I program industrial automation systems and am just about to start a project to automate trains that ship iron ore 450km from the mine to the port.
              So yes, a lot if not most transport will soon be automated.
              When these robots really start impacting jobs, what will initially happen?
              It will only be major corporations that can afford them and their costs will lower but won’t the loss of jobs mean that more and more people won’t be able to afford the products the robots are making?
              It will definitely be interesting.

              • FiveGreenLeafs
                Posted February 28, 2017 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

                “It will only be major corporations that can afford them and their costs will lower but won’t the loss of jobs mean that more and more people won’t be able to afford the products the robots are making.”

                Initially probably yes to some degree, but I don’t think it is unreasonable (in light of historic experiences) to expect that the price tag will come down very fast indeed. Just compare to the situations with computer systems over the last century…

                “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”, Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

                “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”, Ken Olson, CEO, Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

                …and look where we are today. A high end graphic card for the consumer market that costs 500$, with a weight of approx 1 kg and drawing 200W, have today the same raw calculating power as the worlds fastest supercomputers of year 2000, which had a price tag of +100 millions, weight of +100 tons and drew 10 MW of power.

                And we already have so many automated or semiautomated system in operation today. If I understand correctly the Copenhagen Metro is currently run completely autonomous from a control center, analysis in clinical labs are often run on automated platforms, production of Mobile phones, cars, and so on.

                We are in many ways (I think) halfway there already, and I see it more as if this ongoing process will just speed up and extend to new areas.

                But the potential effect on our societies is probably going to increase rapidly going forward.

    • eric
      Posted February 27, 2017 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      The social benefit is in shifting those very smart humans into jobs that take the brains only humans have, creating higher wage positions for them and higher productivity for both the company and the state.

      Yes change is stressful. It’s also hard the older you get. If you want to argue that the state has some obligation to help those people retrain and find replacement jobs, I probably won’t argue too hard against that. But I will argue against non-replacement. IMO converting toll booth operators into doctors and programmers and what have you is a positive sum game.

  5. Posted February 27, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  6. Michael Day
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    If Handle told me to drop my weapon, I would do so with all speed.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted February 28, 2017 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      I for one welcome our new robot overlords.

  7. ashdeville
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Oh jeez – ED209 prototype!

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted February 28, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Yes, that’s what I thought, hence my comment above.

  8. Susan Davies
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    What date was it that Skynet became self-aware?

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 27, 2017 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      August 29th, 1997. I now feel very old.

  9. Posted February 27, 2017 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    A more robust (and probably slower) version of Handle would probably do OK in mining.

    It’s time to automate mining and other hazardous jobs. More people die in mines and tree harvesting than most other lines of work, not to mention the fumes, lack of sunlight (in the case of mines) and general hardship. Taking mining jobs away and having people do other things is a matter of education. I don’t believe that people are impossible to retrain. It just takes some time and investment in them (and the investments should be paid by the companies who put in the robots, or we’ll find ourselves back to the days of Luddites, who smashed the automatic machines in mills. We all know how that turned out

    Personally, I’m looking forward with great anticipation to driverless cars. I hate to drive and because of night blindness can’t drive at night. Driverless cars would make me far less dependent on mass transit after dark (but fortunately I live in a city with very good mass transit, Vancouver). Still, it would be nice to be able to spend a month in the country without being shackled to my house after the sun went down.

  10. Gareth Price
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    It’s amazing – or perhaps not really – how human it looks in many of it’s movements: the way it bends it’s joints, leans and turns and throws it’s arms around for balance.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 28, 2017 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      It was the “nodding” of the “head” that got me.

      • John Frum
        Posted February 28, 2017 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

        The head nodding was for weight distribution though, wasn’t it?
        I didn’t really notice it because I see it as a completely non human machine but that is probably because I work in machine automation.

  11. Rod
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    be interesting to know how much software it takes to run it. Are we talking something like a dedicated laptop, or 10 dedicated laptops?

    • Posted February 27, 2017 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

      Ten laptops will be two in a year, and a chip in four.

    • John Frum
      Posted February 28, 2017 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      For me, more interesting is the type of software running it.
      Is it situation based or learning based.
      When they are are completely learning based, that is when everything changes.

  12. Frank Bath
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to ride one of these. Imagine!

  13. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    This is cool, but significant replacement of the humans for jobs will require the costs to go down. Humans are able to perform multiple functions, they can self-replicate, and have limited abilities to self repair. They are powered on a few thousand calories a day, and recharge in 8 hours.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 28, 2017 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      You can do he sums. If one of these costs 10 times what a labourer does per year (say around 250k$) but will last for 20 years with an annual $2000 service … “Bye Fred, nice knowing you. Here’s a certificate of appreciation on 200gsm paper and a $30 near-gold watch.”
      “Bye George, nice knowing you. Here’s a certificate of appreciation on 200gsm paper and a $30 near-gold watch.”
      “Bye John, nice knowing you. Here’s a certificate of appreciation on 200gsm paper BZZZTQWXT Error in paper feed. RegretBot v2.1 is unable to continue handing out platitudes and sympathy.”

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 28, 2017 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        Damn – missed the Oscar snark possibility.

  14. eric
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    I would’ve loved to see it wipe out. Not out of schaudenfreude, but because I’m curious to see if it can quickly and effectively recover. A robot that performs great only when things are going well would not likely be an effective replacement for many of the more physically difficult or dangerous human jobs.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 28, 2017 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      That’s what I took the alternating rising/ falling ramps to be a demo of – as if the robot had gone off course.
      Already we’re making environments wheelchair and forklift friendly, for different reasons. That’s not going to change, and it is going to change the hazards that people face. Tripping over a relatively light brick is a different thing to encountering an unexpected stair.

      • eric
        Posted February 28, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        Those tests were certainly good at showing the robot can handle difficult terrain, and I’m glad they did them. But IMO it’s not the same as recovering from being tipped-over. I’m particularly interested in the question of fragility; if it falls down and then takes a while to get up, that’s probably okay. If it falls down and never gets up because and “hard knock” to the head stops it working, that’s probably not okay.

        Still, these are quibbles. I fully agree that it’s a remarkable accomplishment.

        • darrelle
          Posted February 28, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          One of their other robots, called BigDog, has some demo videos in which they stress test it. Though it is quite different from this robot. It is a 4 legged walker. They show it navigating over a pile of rubble, over asphalt with patches of ice that cause it to slip badly, in deep snow on significant slopes. In one segment a person kicks / shoves the robot, hard, in the side as it is walking. Its recovery is pretty damn impressive.

  15. Joshua Thom
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t realize that the T-800 was going to come with wheels.

  16. Samphire
    Posted February 28, 2017 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    Wheels and legs. Now why didn’t God think of that?

  17. J. Quinton
    Posted February 28, 2017 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    The Reapers are gearing up for the 50,000 year harvest…

  18. Jay
    Posted February 28, 2017 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    No real life robot can be as cool as Marvin

  19. Posted February 28, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    “We’re all sorry for the other guy when he loses his job to a machine. When it comes to your job, that’s different. And it always will be different.”

  20. Mike
    Posted March 1, 2017 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Amazing machine.

  21. Posted March 24, 2017 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    Looks like a lot more than 9 miles per. I think it was in rabbit to show off. Surprised the military hasn’t already got a division of these things.

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