Heard about the “Cheetah-bot” or the “Ferrari of Robotics”?
It’s not Google’s latest search engine algorithm. It’s not even the equivalent of a Formula 1 racing championship. Cheetah-bot or the “Ferrari of Robotics” is DARPA’s latest creepy invention.
DARPA: Pentagon’s Research Arm
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the US Department of Defense is known to have made or funded the development and creation of all types of robots including:
- “Big Dog”
- “Alpha Dog”
- “Wild Cat”
- Soft robots
- Flying robots
Cheetah-bot is a robotic “cheetah” designed to have the ability to run, leap and jump obstacles it encounters while running quietly in a stealthy cat-like manner.
MIT Researchers And DARPA Collaboration
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spent five long years of rigid testing and experimenting with existing technologies in which the concept of a robotic cheetah evolved. The MIT researchers through the Pentagon’s research arm, DARPA, took the inspiration from the world’s fastest animal. With DARPA’s research fund, the MIT geniuses developed a robot that possesses unparalleled robotic balance, characteristics and instincts of a cheetah, to be used in hostile situations or in search and rescue missions.
Distinct Robotic Characteristics Of Cheetah-bot
The quiet 12 lightweight motors that powers up Cheetah-bot run on batteries which allows it:
- to achieve speeds of over 10mph
- to jump a height of 16 inches
- to land safely and continue to gallop for at least 15 minutes
The MIT researchers use an algorithm that helps the robot decide on the precise amount of force a leg should exert while maneuvering. The robot is equipped with an internal computer chip that sifts and retrieves the data coming from the different sensors of the robot upon which commands are released to the motors accordingly.
Expensive Components To Achieve “Ferrari-like” Speed
A leader of MIT’s Biomimetic Robotics Lab, Sangbae Kim, who is also a professor at MIT explains that Cheetah-bot can be considered a Ferrari in the robotics world. They had to put all the expensive components that would allow it to achieve that kind of speed. That’s what makes it distinctive and stand out from the rest of the other robots that have already been developed and used.
According to Kim, researchers used designs of other existing technologies including all-terrain wheelchairs and vehicles that can negotiate rough ground, and even Xbox controllers used for maneuvering or navigation. Cheetah-bot weighs about 70 pounds with all of its light and heavy parts such as steel mild flat washers, 12 motors, sensors and computer chips as well as the heavy metallic body, arm and leg components.
Cheetah-bot To Potentially Save A Life In The Next Decade
The MIT researchers are hopeful that Cheetah-bot will eventually have the ability to be useful in search and rescue missions, or penetrate environments that are restrictive to humans. Kim said they are continuing their research so that in the next decade or so, the Cheetah-bot will be able to save a life.
Key Component: Robotic Legs
The robotic leg takes its power from three motors that can generate massive force even at low speeds. When the Cheetah-bot is running, the appropriate amount of force required to balance itself is calculated at every step. As the key to the stealth and agility of Cheetah-bot is how hard its mechanical legs hit the ground, the MIT researchers have developed an algorithm that enables them to have control of the amount of force the legs have to exert as they come in contact with the ground.
Like any veteran sprinter would tell you, the higher the force, the faster the speed will be. Hae-Won Park, the MIT research scientist and writer of the robot’s algorithm for movement along with the other MIT researchers hope that continued improvement on the current model will eventually result in the robot being able to move autonomously.
Maintaining Balance At High Speed
As the MIT researchers obtain better control of how hard Cheetah-bot’s feet hit the ground, they discovered that the robotic cheetah could run and leap on rough terrain such as grassy fields without losing speed and balance. The same balance is used when the robotic cheetah clears its path of all types of obstacles.
Five Long Years Of Hard Work Paid Off
The MIT researchers were all extremely patient during the five years they spent designing, tweaking and testing the robotic cheetah. During test runs, Cheetah-bot broke dozens of 3D printer-manufactured legs reinforced with carbon and Kevlar®. In the end, the MIT researchers have proven those who said that the electric motors don’t have enough power to propel a running mechanical robot power-driven by batteries. All their hard work resulted to:
- strong yet lightweight components that allowed untethered running
- a carbon fiber-and-foam sandwich frame that can absorb the forces caused by jumping and running
- an Xbox-like controller to maneuver the robotic cheetah
- wireless internet communications to send commands to Cheetah-bot
Cheetah-bot is undoubtedly a robot like no other.
Should we look forward to more advanced versions of the Cheetah-bot?