Look out! Autonomous, military-funded ‘cheetah’ robot is off its leash

CNN —  

What do you get when you combine state-of-the-art robotics and military funding? An epically cool yet slightly intimidating bouncing cheetah… obviously.

MIT researchers first made headlines with their four-legged bot last September when they announced they had designed a cheetah-inspired machine able to run and jump freely albeit “blind,” as the robot carried no cameras or additional vision equipment.

Since then they have been hard at work improving their project, in part funded by the U.S. military’s research arm the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Now the scientists have gone a step further with their robotic feline – it’s now able to “see” and bound over obstacles thrown into its path with ease. Don’t believe it? Check out the video above!

It can see!

“A running jump is a truly dynamic behavior,” says Sangbae Kim, MIT research team leader and an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “You have to manage balance and energy, and be able to handle impact after landing. Our robot is specifically designed for those highly dynamic behaviors.”

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The video clearly shows the four-legged bot hurdling over impediments as tall as 40cm as they are thrown in the path of the galloping beast – all while maintaining a steady 5 mph.

The 70 lb robot uses onboard LIDAR – basically a 2D laser distance sensor – to detect if there is a barrier in its path. It then estimates height and distance and a three-part algorithm works out the optimal position to ensure the bot can clear the obstacle and stick the landing before even leaping into the air.

While Kim and the development team are still working to improve the MIT robot (in campus experiments it only completed 70% of hurdles while on the treadmill in recent tests), they hope the cheetah bot could ultimately be of use to the military or provide assistance in disaster relief in the future.

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An animal army?

This advance in robotics isn’t a standalone concept. Many engineers in the robotics field are turning the animal kingdom for innovative inspiration.

Google has Spot the dog, the Bremen-based German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence has developed Charlie the chimp as a model for future lunar missions and Boston Dynamics (well known for developing animal-like bots and also funded in part by DARPA) has made multiple quadruped robots.