Pentagon introduces Atlas, its new "robo sapien"

WASHINGTON - The military on Tuesday showed off its new robot that one day could take on missions deemed too dangerous for humans.

Homo sapien - in the person of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel - meets robo sapien - who goes by the name Atlas and is one of the most advanced robots in the world.

Atlas still has a way to go on the evolutionary scale.

"Great body, not much of a brain yet," said Arati Prabhakar, the Pentagon's director of advanced research.

According to Prabhakar, putting one foot in front of the other turns out to be a very complex task for Atlas, especially when the ground is uneven.

At 6-foot, 2 inches, and 330 pounds, Atlas is what the military calls a ground pounder - assigned mundane tasks like hooking up a fire hose - which takes him so long we have to show you at 33 times normal speed.

"It was remote-controlled by many human operators that would plan each step arduously," said Prabhakar.

After the nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima, Japan, the Pentagon funded a $30 million project to develop a robot to go into the middle of a meltdown to say, shut off a critical valve, removing any debris that blocked its way.

"What we're learning in the process of this work that we're doing today is how excruciatingly hard it is still to have the technology to do what seem like very simple things for human begins," said Prabhakar.

Could Atlas evolve some day into a robo-soldier? He'll have to get a whole lot quicker on his feet, and he'll have to become autonomous so he can operate without cables tethering him to humans.

This new species of robo sapiens is walking upright. Now he's got to learn to think for himself.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

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