Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have announced the latest developments in their robotic cheetah project. The project aims to provide insights into how cheetahs can move so quickly. The cheetah is now "wireless" and is electrically powered.
MIT has been working on the robotic cheetah for a number of years and isn't the only place to be doing so. In 2012, a DARPA-funded Boston Dynamics project broke the land speed record for a robot with legs – a record had previously set in 1989 by MIT's Planar Biped.
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Associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT Sangbae Kim explains that team's work is focused on understanding the movement of animals and, in particular, four-legged animals.
"We try to understand how they efficiently run in the field and nature so that we can take that inspiration and then use it in our engineering world," says Kim. "So, for example, we can create prosthetic legs from that technology or we can even make new transportation replacing cars so that you don't need the road in our world."
Currently, the robotic cheetah can run at up to 10 mph (16 km/h) and can jump over obstacles that are 33 cm (13 in) high. A previous version of the cheetah reached a speed of 22 km/h (14 mph), but it was tethered so that it could be powered externally. The newer version is powered independently via an electric motor.
To achieve this, the team had to develop all of the the components for the robot itself. These included motors, the control system and the control algorithms.
Kim points out that most leg-standing robots are powered by internal combustion engines with hydraulic transmissions, which are noisy and inefficient. "People believe that internal combustion engines and hydraulics are the only way to make a legged robot run and support itself," he says. "People believe that electric motors are not powerful enough. This is the first time we show that an electrically powered robot can run and jump over foot-high obstacles."
The video below shows the robotic cheetah in action.