A number of quadrupeds are in various stages of development for DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program. In the past few months both Boston Dynamics and MIT’s Biomimetic Robotics Lab have published video footage of their robots in action.
Boston Dynamics is the program’s frontrunner. It’s old news by now, but their nearly complete prototype has broken the land speed record for legged robots at 28.9 kph (18 mph). The previous record was set by the MIT Leg Lab’s pogo stick-like Planar Biped robot back in 1989. It too was co-created by Marc Raibert, and bounded at a speed of 21 kph (13.1 mph).
Cheetah is still tethered to an external power source and uses a boom to keep it centered on its treadmill, but the company says it will test an “unplugged” version later this year. If that doesn’t get you excited, Raibert has speculated that, with some improvements, the robot could achieve speeds of 64.3 kph (40 mph). Even if it eventually runs that fast it would still be slower than its flesh-and-blood inspiration, which has a top speed of 120 kph [75 mph]).
Meanwhile, Sangbae Kim over at MIT’s Biomimetic Robotics Lab is working on a cheetah robot of his own. While at Stanford he designed the world-famous gecko-inspired StickyBot, which uses dry directional adhesion to climb smooth surfaces, where most other robots rely on powerful vacuum suction. Skeptics are quick to point out that you don’t need to build airplanes exactly like birds to achieve flight, but StickyBot proved that copying evolution’s innovative solutions can be incredibly efficient compared to other methods.
With this in mind the more life-like appearance of MIT’s Cheetah robot should come as no surprise. The big question is whether this more biologically-inspired approach will result in a robot that can better its less faithfully designed competition in terms of speed, energy efficiency, or both? We certainly hope so, but for now it is only capable of a quick trot.
Video (walking and trotting):
Video (a little vertical hop):
In addition, Arizona University has its own cheetah robot in development (though it seems to be lagging compared to the above projects), and let’s not forget IHMC’s FastRunner (an ostrich-like robot).