By John D. Sutter, CNN
Here's a fun viral video for your Monday morning -- a computer simulation of a "robot ostrich" that's a joint project of DARPA, the U.S. Defense department's research arm, MIT and the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition:
The real name for this robot-ostrich project is FastRunner, which makes sense when you consider that it's being designed to run faster than people.
Here's more on that from IHMC's page dedicated to the project:
FastRunner will be a fast, efficient, and dynamic bipedal platform capable of traversing moderately rough terrain as fast as the best human sprinters. FastRunner will incorporate a novel leg design, which we have already demonstrated with several prototypes developed at IHMC. This leg design will enable FastRunner to achieve unprecedented efficiency and speed while being self-stabilizing.
All of this is semi-theoretical for now. The Florida robotics group says it's built one leg of the robot ostrich and has been running computer models that show it can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour within 15 seconds of the starting block.
Its top speed, according to a researcher on the project, is 27 mph.
Only 40% of the machine has actually been built so far, so all the excitement is about computer models. Expect an actual working prototype of the robo-bird by 2013, said Sebastien Cotton, a research scientist with IHMC in Florida.
Why an ostrich?
Because it's the fastest two-legged animal on land, he said.
"All the inspiration is coming from the ostrich so we spent a lot of time studying ostriches and trying to figure out which movements are essential to its locomotion," Cotton said by phone.
As for what the work this ostrich will do, Cotton said he couldn't share details. There's obviously something inherently cool about a 5-foot tall avian cyborg.
And since DARPA is involved, this unsuspecting ostrich is likely being designed to go to war.
Hopefully, when it gets there it will be able to maneuver itself with some grace. So far, computer simulations show that FastRunner can traverse "gentle slopes." IEEE, where we spotted this video, has more details on the ostrich's ability to handle rougher land:
It'll also be able to run over moderately rough terrain, albeit at 15 km/h, which is still probably going to give even a talented human a run for their money. To put the speed of this robot in perspective, a human can sprint at about 40 km/h over short, level distances, while an actual ostrich can hit almost 100 km/h, with sustained speeds in the 70s.
For context, balance and rough terrain can be big problems for robots. Some advances have been made in this area, though. Check out this video of PETMAN, from Boston Dynamics.
What's impressive about this video is not so much that PETMAN can walk, but that it maintains its balance even after the researcher in the video gives it a firm push.