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Walking is an extraordinary feat of biomechanical engineering. Every step requires balance and the ability to adapt to instability in a split second. It requires quickly adjusting where your foot will land and calculating how much force to apply to change direction suddenly. No wonder, then, that until now robots have not been very good at it.

Meet Atlas, a humanoid robot created by Boston Dynamics, a company that Google acquired in December 2013. It can walk across rough terrain and even run on flat ground. Although previous robots such as Honda’s ASIMO and Sony’s diminutive QRIO are able to walk, they cannot quickly adjust their balance; as a result, they are often awkward, and limited in practical value. Atlas, which has an exceptional sense of balance and can stabilize itself with ease, demonstrates the abilities that robots will need to move around human environments safely and easily.

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