A cat-like robot has broken a 22-year-old land speed record after sprinting at 18mph (29km/h) in a treadmill-based laboratory test.
The aptly named Cheetah became the fastest legged robot ever built following a successful test run at the Massachusetts HQ of its developers Boston Dynamics on 5 March.
Currently the quadrupedal bot is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump and is confined to the laboratory. But Boston Dynamics’ chief robot scientist Alfred Rizzi says the company hopes to begin testing an even faster, free-running Cheetah later this year.
He said: “While the 18mph is a good start, our goal is to get Cheetah running much faster and outdoors. We designed the treadmill to go over 50mph, but we plan to get off the treadmill and into the field as soon as possible. We really want to understand the limits for what is possible for fast-moving robots.”
The previous speed record for legged robots was set in 1989 at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab’s Leg Laboratory. The project was carried out by graduate Jeff Koechling who developed the control system for a long-legged biped that ran at just over 13mph.
To break this record, the Boston Dynamics team joined forces with the Royal Veterinary College’s Alan Wilson, an expert on fast-running animals. The resulting robot was designed to mimic the movements of its savannah-dwelling namesake and as such increases its stride and running speed by flexing and unflexing its back on each step.
The company has previously made significant waves in robotics circles with impressive creations such as BigDog, a four-legged rough-terrain robot, and the Terminatoresque Petman bipedal robot. Like Cheetah, these were both funded by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) programme.
Possible applications of Cheetah include various military uses as well as emergency rescue, disaster response and for transportation where rough terrain limits the mobility of conventional vehicles.
Boston Dynamics president Marc Raibert said: “To get Cheetah running faster and develop robots capable of operating in the natural world, we must create hardware and software with the speed and strength of athletes.”