Scientists build robot that runs, call it "cheetah"
It's a robot unlike any other, inspired by the world's fastest land animal, controlled by video game technology and packing nifty sensors.
The robot is called the cheetah. It can run on batteries at speeds of more than 10 mph. It can jump about 16 inches high, land safely and continue galloping for at least 15 minutes. And it does it all while using less power than a microwave oven.
It's the creation of researchers at the Massachusetts of Technology, who had to design key elements from scratch.
"This is kind of a Ferrari in the robotics world," 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. Those include 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.
"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.
Sensors inside the robot measure the angle of the leg. 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. It 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 and tweaking. It also took 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.
Strong, lightweight components that made 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 came in handy. An Xbox controller is used to maneuver the robot. And wireless Internet communications send commands to the mechanical cheetah.
"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?