Researchers at MIT have built a cheetah robot that runs off-leash at 10 miles per hour.
The cheetah is the fastest land animal, capable of running at 60 to 75 miles per hour. Researchers at MIT have developed an algorithm that imitates the cheetah's bounding motion. The result is a cheetah robot that sprints around at 10 miles per hour, and can bound over obstacles up to one foot in height. The robotic cheetah was let loose in MIT's Killian Court for a test run, and easily ran across the uneven grass.
Known officially as the MIT Cheetah 2, the project is supported by DARPA, the research wing of the Pentagon. This cheetah-bot isn't the first to be funded by DARPA. A similar robot, developed by Boston Dynamics, set the land speed record for robots, reaching 18 miles per hour on a track in 2012, and then beating that record by managing a blistering 28.3 miles per hour later that year. That surpasses the record for human speed, set at 27.78 miles per hour by Olympic runner Usain Bolt in 2009, and the top speed of the the KAIST Raptor, a bipedal robot inspired by velociraptors. Both the KAIST Raptor and Boston Dynamics' cheetah-bot were tested in laboratories, leashed to a track. The MIT researchers believe that the MIT Cheetah 2, which can run free, may also be able to reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.
The algorithm developed by MIT researchers determines the amount of force each leg of the robot should exert when it hits the ground, in order to maintain forward motion. The motion of the cheetah-bot is based on bounding, a simple gait where first the animal's front legs hit the ground together, and then the hind legs follow. "Bounding is like an entry-level high-speed gait, and galloping is the ultimate gait," says Sangbae Kim, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. "Once you get bounding, you can easily split the two legs and get galloping."
The cheetah robot is battery powered, running on a custom electric motor designed by Jeffrey Lang, the Vitesse Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT. It also contains an amplifier designed by principal research engineer David Otten at MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics. Running on an electric motor, the robot is much quieter than similar robots that use a gasoline engine. "Our robot can be silent and as efficient as animals," says Kim. "The only things you hear are the feet hitting the ground."
A silent, free-running mechanical cheetah that may soon outpace the fastest human land speed? Excuse me, I have to go hide in my bunker and mutter about the implications for Skynet.