DARPA And Boston Dynamics Have Created Cheetah Bot, The Fastest Robot In The World
“…prototype mimics the cheetah in that its back flexes with every step…”
Whenever I watch the Olympics, in particular the swimming and track events, I always wonder how someone is able to beat a previous world record. Eventually, this will have to become impossible, because there is no way to push to human body past a certain limit. Lucky for us, we now have robots competing for these world records, and winning. Olympian Usain Bolt is known for holding the fastest land-speed record, which was set in 2009 when he ran at an amazing peak speed of 27.78 mph. Well, until the Cheetah Bot, that is.
Unfortunately for Bolt, his record has been surpassed by a robotic cheetah, lovingly named Cheetah Bot. According to Boston Dynamics, the Cheetah is a four-legged robot that “gallops” at 18 mph, a speed that breaks the 1989 MIT record of 13.1 mph. Boston Dynamics’ project is funded by a subsidiary of the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), called the Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program.
Boston Dynamics created this robot modeled after the biological anatomy of a cheetah, and chose this particular mammal for a reason. Their prototype mimics the cheetah in that its back flexes with every step it takes, which increases its stride and therefore its running speed. Cheetahs can run faster than any other land animal, clocking in at short-distance speeds up of to 75 mph. They also have the ability to accelerate from zero to 64 mph in only three seconds, which puts most sports cars to shame. Cheetah’s are also built so that they can navigate rough terrains, something the team at Boston Dynamics hopes to carry out with their latest creation.
Despite it’s amazing speed, Boston Dynamics admits that the Cheetah Bot has an unfair advantage over Bolt. Instead of running on turf or terrain, DARPA’s Cheetah Bot is tested on a high-speed treadmill within a laboratory. It stays centered on the treadmill thanks to what Boston Dynamics calls a “boom-like” device. However, despite the laboratory restrictions, studies reveal that most of the robot’s power is not used to lunge forward. Instead, the power is utilized to move its legs quickly enough to achieve the fast pace necessary to reach its outstanding speed. And if things couldn’t get any better, recent improvements have been made to the device. Thanks to the combination of even more successful control algorithms and an improved hydraulic pump, the Cheetah Bot has increased in speed even more.
In their recent press release, DARPA made the statement that “the robot has a ways to go before it can come close to matching the speeds of its living and breathing cheetah kin… but that really isn’t the point.” The agencies working on the Cheetah Bot have other noteworthy goals in mind as well. Once this robot has been perfected, the hope is for it to be let loose in both man-made and natural environments where it can work with emergency response teams and provide humanitarian assistance.
There are still some problems with the Cheetah Bot that need to be rectified. One such problem involves its inability to maneuver over difficult terrains. According to DARPA, coordinating the movement of the robot’s mechanical legs is not an easy task. While this might seem counterintuitive, controlling a two- or four-legged robot actually proves more difficult than maneuvering robots that rely on wheels or tracks.
These agencies plan on creating a prototype of their Cheetah Bot that can be tested on natural terrain, although this won’t happen until sometime next year. Chances are that this prototype won’t be able to run as fast over rocks and ditches as it does it the laboratory, but its results will provide great insight into what changes can be made to improve the Cheetah Bot. Their goal is to create a four-legged robot that will be able to navigate over tough terrain without sacrificing speed. One way that the agencies hope to achieve this is by creating robots with parts that duplicate the abilities of real life organisms. Such skills would include more efficient locomotion, the capability to operate objects and, most importantly, the ability that all organisms have yet all robots lack: adaptability.
There is also talk of a successor to the Cheetah Bot, called WildCat, which is in the works. It will be a much improved version of the Cheetah Bot, with greater control capabilities and an onboard engine, meaning that the device can be operated using 3D controls, as well as having the ability to move around unthethered – unlike the current Cheetah Bot prototype. However, the WildCat is still in its initial planning stages and will likely rely on the success of the Cheetah Bot before any real progress is made in its development.
Another problem is that the Cheetah Bot doesn’t really look like a cheetah, but instead resembles a mesh of metal and wires atop four metal legs, but maybe I’m just nitpicking.
If Boston Dynamics and DARPA are able to achieve the goals they have outlined, not only will the robot be able to assist on the front lines of combat, but perhaps we’ll be watching the Robotic Olympics in 20 years.
Read more at Boston Dynamic’s Homepage.
- By Julie Tutwiler