MIT Biomimetic Robotics Laboratory has been working on the robotic cheetah for years now. Funded by DARPA, the project has already achieved major milestones like becoming the fasted four-legged robot and then beating Usain Bolt's land speed record. But all that was done connected to a tether for stability. Now, the robotic feline is able to run free and becoming increasingly like its real life counterpart.
Researchers had already studied the cheetah's build and gate in order to create the first robotic cheetah. Now with a new algorithm, they've figured out how to keep it running quickly while remaining stable, even when jumping over obstacles.
The latest version of the cheetah includes gears, batteries and electric motors and weighs the same as an actual cheetah. The algorithm works by determining how much force a leg should exert in the short amount of time it touches the ground while running. The force has to be enough to push up against the force of gravity so that the robot keeps moving forward.
“Once I know how long my leg is on the ground and how long my body is in the air, I know how much force I need to apply to compensate for the gravitational force,” says Sangbae Kim, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “Now we’re able to control bounding at many speeds. And to jump, we can, say, triple the force, and it jumps over obstacles.”
On an indoor track, the robot has been able to reach speeds of 10 mph and clear hurdles without stopping. The researchers think this version of the robot will eventually make it to 30 mph.
The robot has another thing going for it. Because it uses electric motors it is lighter and less cumbersome than other gas-powered quadruped robots and it's also virtually silent as it moves, making it nearly as stealth as a real cheetah.
Check out the video below to see the bounding in action.