Scientists build robot that runs, call it "cheetah"
Scientists build robot that runs, call it "cheetah" A robotic cheetah runs on an athletic field at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts (AP photos)
Scientists build robot that runs, call it "cheetah"
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It's a robot unlike any other: inspired by the world's fastest land animal, controlled by video game technology and packing nifty sensors including one used to maneuver drones, satellites and ballistic missiles.

The robot, called the cheetah, can run on batteries at speeds of more than 10 mph, jump about 16 inches high, land safely and continue galloping for at least 15 minutes, all while using less power than a microwave oven.

It's the creation of researchers at the Massachusetts of Technology in Cambridge, who had to design key elements from scratch.

That includes powerful, lightweight motors; electronics that control power for its 12 motors, and an algorithm that determines the amount of force a leg should exert during the split second that it spends on the ground while running. It's the key to helping the robot maintain balance and forward momentum. An onboard computer organizes data from various sensors and sends commands to each motor.

"This is kind of a Ferrari in the robotics world, like, we have to put all the expensive components and make it really that instinctive," said MIT professor Sangbae Kim, who leads the school's Biomimetic Robotics Lab that designed the robot. "That's the only way to get that speed."

Insight gleaned from the design of their prototype could have real-world applications, including the design of revolutionary prosthetics, wearable technologies, all-terrain wheelchairs and vehicles that can travel efficiently in rough terrain much like animals do, Kim said. There are hopes the robot will be able to be used in search and rescue operations in hazardous or hostile environments where it's too risky to send a human rescuer.

"When the robot is running, at every step, we calculate the appropriate amount of the force to the legs so that the robot can balance itself," said MIT research scientist Hae-Won Park, who wrote the complex algorithm used to control the cheetah, which weighs around 70 pounds about the same as one of its female feline counterparts.

Sensors inside the robot measure the angle of the leg and that information is sent to an onboard computer that also organizes data from the Inertial Measurement Unit, or IMU, which is also used to maneuver drones and ballistic missiles, Park said.

The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The military research arm is also funding a similar robot being developed by Boston Dynamics. The company says its version is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump and uses a boom-like device to keep it running in the center of the treadmill.

Crafting the cheetah robot took five years of designing, testing, tweaking and plenty of confidence to ignore those who said electric motors aren't strong enough to propel a running mechanical cheetah powered by batteries.

Researchers had to exercise a lot of patience during test runs. The robot broke dozens of legs manufactured by 3-D printers and reinforced with Kevlar strips and carbon fiber.

The results?

Strong, lightweight components that made untethered running possible, including a carbon fiber-and-foam sandwich frame that can absorb the forces generated by running and jumping.

Some off-the-shelf components, including an Xbox controller for maneuvering the robot and wireless Internet communications for sending commands to the mechanical cheetah, also came in handy.

Each leg is propelled by three motors that can generate powerful forces at slow speeds.

Still, researchers continue to tweak their prototype, looking to add additional sensors that would eventually make the robot autonomous.

"In the next 10 years, our goal is we are trying to make this robot to save a life," Kim said.

Critical thinking challenge: Why did scientists name their robot cheetah instead of some other animal?

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Assigned 17 times

  • JB2001Doge
    12/05/2014 - 08:43 a.m.

    Wow, now, they're making are making robot animals??? Who invented it and how is this going to help??? Like, are they going to make a 3D image of an animal that the species is dead, and put it in a museum?

  • MadisonSch
    12/05/2014 - 01:46 p.m.

    My question is why do scientist need to build this. How is this contraption going to help people? Just because it is fast does not mean it will do us any good in life.

  • AlexisKrise
    12/05/2014 - 01:52 p.m.

    It's amazing how they can take bits and pieces from multiple types of machinery and put them together to create something beyond imagine. The fact that humans have come so far in their technological advances is what fascinates me to no end!

  • brandonj-Koc
    12/05/2014 - 03:56 p.m.

    this prototype of a running robot is a major step up for technology in robotics and will help excell further on in this type of field in the years to come as the military could adopt this type of technology for future use.

  • jarredc-Koc
    12/07/2014 - 10:29 p.m.

    The technology that has been used to create this modern marvel is also going to propel the human race into the future. The dreams that were given to us by movies such as star wars and back to the future are now becoming a reality. The creation of robots could lead us to developing cures for diseases, robotic limbs, and advanced bio mechanical engineering. The possibilities of these advancements is endless. With continued research, the dreams of the past will become the realities of tomorrow.

  • jonahh-Koc
    12/07/2014 - 11:35 p.m.

    They named the robot Cheetah because that is what it was inspired from. A cheetah is very fast and lightweight just like this robot. Its is the first of its kind and is completely custom made.The robot runs so as of now its is the fastest running robot and it has that in common with the worlds fastest animal, the cheetah

  • mosesv-Koc
    12/08/2014 - 01:38 a.m.

    Our world has finally made an active working robot. Robots have seemed to always interest me and it's amazing what robots can do. I hope some day robots will be a part of everyday life.

  • joshz-Koc
    12/08/2014 - 01:50 a.m.

    It's crazy how we are progressing with robots. How it runs 6 mph and can jump 16 ft high and it's a robot not a "living thing" is ridiculous.

  • ws2001wrex
    12/08/2014 - 01:02 p.m.

    The scientist must have named it cheetah because that animal is the fastest living land animal in the world (currently). Also, its a quick and unique animal and this robot is a unique one in itself.

  • justinw15
    12/08/2014 - 01:02 p.m.

    why did they make a robot. I like to make things in my mind. people like to make stuff because they are board. they also test things out to make sure that it is all right

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