Cheetah Robot Breaks Another Record

By Eric Beidel

Scientists are developing a robot that can outrun the fastest man on Earth.

Developed by Boston Dynamics on behalf of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the robot, called Cheetah, has reached a peak speed of 28.3 mph for a 20-meter split. The International Association of Athletics Federations lists the world speed record for a human as 27.78 mph, accomplished by Jamaican Olympian Usain Bolt in 2009 during a 100-meter sprint.

Of course, Cheetah had a leg (or two) up on the competition. It was running on a treadmill, most of its power being used to swing and lift its legs fast enough to keep up. It is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump and uses a device similar to a boom to keep it centered on the treadmill.

The robot is being developed by scientists who want to create a legged machine that doesn’t sacrifice speed for mobility on rough terrain. Most robots used in emergency response, humanitarian assistance and other defense missions taking place in hard-to-get-around places have wheels or tracks to traverse bumps. But the most hazardous terrain demands the use of legs to step over high obstacles and deep ditches, officials said.

“Modeling the robot after a cheetah is evocative and inspiring, but our goal is not to copy nature,” said DARPA Program Manager Gill Pratt.

Researchers want to engineer into a robot the capabilities such animals have refined over ages of evolution, including efficient locomotion and the ability to adapt to environments. Cheetah’s stride patterns, stability, limb placement and flexing of parts take their cues from the real animal.

But that doesn’t mean the robot is as fast as the real thing.

A cheetah at the Cincinnati Zoo that recently recorded a speed of 61 mph would easily lap the machine in a race around a track.

Cheetah, for the time being will, continue to use a laboratory treadmill so researchers can monitor its progress and advance its algorithms. DARPA plans to test a prototype on natural terrain next year.

Photo Credit: DARPA

Topics: Science and Engineering Technology, DARPA

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