MIT’s new robotic cheetah can even leap over hurdles

The cheetah is off the leash! Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have built a four-legged robot that runs like the super-fast spotted feline and can even run on its own power, off a treadmill. The robot has now been filmed sprinting like a champ across grassy fields on the MIT university campus.

When tested on an indoor track, the robo-cheetah could run at a good clip of 10 miles per hour, and the researchers think that it could eventually reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. That still doesn’t hold a candle to an actual cheetah, which can reach speeds of 60 miles per hour in a matter of seconds – but it’s fast where legged robots are concerned.

If the robo-cheetah can indeed reach those speeds, it could potentially give Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, who’s been clocked at nearly 28 miles per hour, a run for his money. In any case, the robot is already a multi-sport athlete – it can also do hurdles, leaping over obstacles up to 1.08 feet tall and sprinting onward.

The key is in the running algorithm that the researchers developed. A rolling robot (or vehicle) will spin its wheels faster when it wants to pick up the pace. But that’s not the way this legged robot works. Instead of pumping its legs faster and faster, the cheetah robot puts more force into each step, so each stride takes it a little farther in the same time.

Heavy running robots typically can’t control force very well at high speeds as their feet pound the ground, but MIT’s cheetah can – which means it can navigate rougher terrain without breaking its stride.

This cheetah robot runs by bounding, which is when the front legs hit the ground together, followed by the back legs. It’s similar to the way a rabbit runs, and it’s relatively simpler to imitate than more complex patterns of four-legged running, like trotting or galloping.

The work, which was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is being presented at the 2014 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems meeting in Chicago.

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