Is this Robotics Company training their Robot to Fight?

By May 3, 2023 Technology

This short clip was posted on TikTok by the user “boston_dynamics” and appears to depict a humanoid robot performing combat moves and backflips in rapid succession.

The video has been reposted on different social media platforms to mixed reactions, with some alarmed at the idea of “soulless fighting machines,” and expressing concern about Boston Dynamic’s motives.

Boston Dynamics is a well-known robotics company that has been a leading figure in creating extremely mobile and sophisticated robots. The company has gone viral several times over the past few years for their videos of different robots dancing to pop songs as a display of mobility. However, a look at the Boston Dynamics website does not unearth any mention of this fighting robot – neither can the video in question be found on their officially linked social media platforms.

Further research shows that they do not actually have an official TikTok page.  As a fact-check by The Dispatch also points out, the TikTok user “boston_dynamics” is intentionally misrepresenting themselves as the real company. While a username is usually displayed prominently and is marked on the video itself,  the actual name associated with the account is “Botsom_Dyanmics,” which is a tactic used by fake accounts to mislead viewers.

One of Boston Dynamics’ most notable robots is Atlas, a bipedal (walks on two feet), humanoid model. Atlas is known for being able to jump, flip, and turn with speed and agility as demonstrated in videos posted on the official Boston Dyanmics Youtube channel. Some reposts of the original video mistakenly identify the fighting robot as Atlas. However, when comparing the Tiktok video from the fake account to real videos of Atlas, it is clear that the two are different, with the fighting robot lacking several details found on Atlas such as branding and paneling details on the body (particularly the back).

A closer look at the video itself also raises suspicion. For one, Atlas weighs between 80 and 90kg, but the grass and dirt below the fighting robot remains undisturbed throughout the video despite high-impact activity. Some users have also pointed out that CGI can be observed in the shadows of the robot’s feet. It is almost certain, therefore, that this is a digitally generated video.

A similar hoax took place in 2019, with a parody video posted on Youtube depicting Atlas injuring a human. The hoaxers later revealed that they utilised a green screen and CGI technology to create the fake video.

Given the high profile of the company, they remain a prime target for hoaxes; particularly given the existing capabilities of their robots, which give these fake videos added believability. Reposts of the video lean heavily on the idea that they are training robots for combat or building a robot army. However, as Boston Dynamics’s own ethics statement affirms, they have no intention of weaponising the robots they create. Atlas in particular was originally conceptualised as an aid for emergency services in search and rescue operations.

Therefore, the video does not show a humanoid robot being taught or programmed to fight. Is it a digitally generated video made to resemble an existing robot model and was posted by an account misrepresenting itself as the manufacturers of that existing model. We give this a rating of false.

As CGI and AI-generated videos get harder and harder to spot, the risk of misinformation and disinformation spreading rapidly increases as well. In this case, while Atlas is optimised for carrying out human-assigned tasks that require mobility and agility, the fake video instead shifts narratives about Atlas towards its potential as a fighting machine. Cross-checking across platforms and with verified sources is important when encountering videos that seem suspicious or unbelievable, as well as keeping an eye out for tactics such as misspelled usernames by fake accounts.

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