Massachusetts-based Boston Dynamics has taught its robots to walk, jump, and even do backflips. So it wasn't entirely surprising when it shared video last week of its Atlas robot running, by itself, outdoors.
Now, in a development that perhaps was inevitable, a jogging robot has found a dead body.
The grim discovery occurred Tuesday on a trail near Boston Dynamics' headquarters in Waltham, northwest of Boston. The robot was jogging alone when its optical scanners detected the lifeless figure a few feet from the path.
At first, the robot reported later, it thought the body was a log, placed there as a challenge by its creators. It wasn't until the robot got closer and prepared to jump over it that the truth became clear.
Momentarily confused, the robot jumped over the corpse anyway. Then it ran, emitting high-pitched electronic screams, back to the Boston Dynamics campus.
Engineers later erased the traumatic memory from the robot's central processing unit.
Joggers have a long history of discovering dead bodies, of course. But this is thought to be the first time a robot jogger has done so.
"What a milestone," said Philip Dick, a researcher at MIT. "As an avid jogger myself, I've found several corpses. I never thought I'd live to see the day that a jogging robot would perform the same task."
"I mean, I'm sorry for the deceased," he said. "But this really is a breakthrough."
Boston Dynamics said in a statement that its scientists had wondered whether one of its jogging robots might someday find a body and, if so, how it might respond. Would the robot pick the body up? Poke it with a stick? Stand transfixed, unable to process the inert object before it?
"Now we know," the statement said. "Upon seeing a dead body, our robots react in much the same way a human jogger does—expressing shock and then immediately seeking help."
Police have not identified the victim, an adult male, but said that there were no signs of foul play. A police spokesperson said that this is the first time she had heard of a robot finding a body.
"What'll they think of next?" she said.