He is a hydraulically powered robot and they call him Atlas. The Pentagon-financed humanoid robot was unveiled to the public today.

His mission is as noble as it gets: help rescue missions in cases of natural and man-made disasters, especially in situations where humans cannot survive - the ultimate firefighter, that is.

And some of its features include laser and stereo vision systems, as well as dexterous hands.

The Pentagon has put on a challenge in which competing teams of technologists program it to do things like shut off valves or throw switches, open doors, operate power equipment and travel over rocky ground. The winner will be rewarded with a $2 million check.

For some, Atlas is a giant step forward toward the long waited age of humanoid robots.

Gary Bradski, a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence specialist and a co-founder of Industrial Perception Inc., a company that is building a robot able to load and unload trucks, is among those.

"People love the wizards in Harry Potter or 'Lord of the Rings,' but this is real," he said. "A new species, Robo sapiens, are emerging."

Some experts in the field of robotics believe that the learning curve toward useful humanoid robots will be steep, even though, the present days are filled with robotics planes and self-driven cars

Among the most easily foreseen uses of these two legs tools include serving as department store guides, assist the elderly with daily tasks or carry out nuclear power plant rescue operations.

"Two weeks ago 19 brave firefighters lost their lives," said Gill Pratt, a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Pentagon, which oversaw Atlas's design and financing. "A number of us who are in the robotics field see these events in the news, and the thing that touches us very deeply is a single kind of feeling which is, can't we do better? All of this technology that we work on, can't we apply that technology to do much better? I think the answer is yes."