Wednesday, March 07, 2012

DARPA’s robot Cheetah sets land speed record


If the words “skynet” and “terminator” come to your mind while watching the video above, don’t worry, you aren’t the only one. Created by DARPA contractor Boston Dynamics, the robot is known as Cheetah and has set the land speed record for a legged robot by running at a full 18mph. That’s 4.9mph faster than the former record set back in 1989. While 18mph might not seem that fast, go out and try running at the same speed for a long period of time. We’ll be right here with the defibrillator when you need it.

The robot pictured above is modeled after the fastest land based animal on Earth, which of course is the cheetah. Found mostly in Africa and the Middle East, the cheetah is capable of running as fast as 70mph for distances up to 1,600 feet. Its acceleration speed rivals that of a Bugatti Super Sport, with the animal being able to go from 0 to 62mph in under 3-seconds (the Super Sport does it in 2.7). It’s easy to see why this kind of speed would be appealing to DARPA, a military robot that could travel independently at such a speed would be a major asset during operations.

Boston Dynamics, also the creator of the Alpha Dog , designed the robot to take advantage of the cheetah’s bone structure and physical makeup. By angling the feet and allowing its back to flex during strides, they created a more efficient range of motion allowing for higher speeds. As you witnessed in the video above, right now the testing is being conducted on an electric treadmill, which doesn’t vary the terrain or put obstacles in its path. Boston Dynamics is planning on doing real world testing soon, with the goal of achieving much higher speeds at some point.

While the military has no clear cut use for a robot like this, the field applications are pretty obvious. From carrying medical supplies or a wounded soldier, to performing shoot and run recon, the Cheetah would be welcomed into any unit I’d imagine.

DARPA is putting a tremendous amount of resources into developing projects of this type. Borrowing again from nature, the military research organization has also funded a robotic ostrich that’s being designed to negotiate terrain at high speeds. It will be interesting to see what future development holds for both projects.