If you're a serious competitive runner, then training on your own isn't always enough – you need someone else to race against. That said, a fast enough runner might not always be available. What do you do then? Well, if you're one of a lucky few, you may soon be able to use your Puma BeatBot robot.
The device was created by Puma's advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson New York, with some help from a NASA robotics engineer and a group of MIT students.
Looking not unlike a miniature Zamboni, it's equipped with nine downward-facing infrared sensors that can track straight or curved lines on the ground. With some help from an Arduino microcontroller and a 9-axis accelerometer, it can zip along a running track while following one of the existing lane-marking lines, making 100 steering adjustments a second to stay on target.
How fast can it go? Well, Puma hasn't stated a maximum speed, but it can match Usain Bolt's 100-meter dash world record of 44.7 km/h (27.4 mph).
Users start by utilizing an accompanying smartphone app, entering the distance that they plan on going, and the time they'd like to beat. They then place the BeatBot on the starting line alongside themselves, wait for it to beep three times, and then start running. It will move along on its own line, counting its wheel revolutions to determine its speed and distance travelled. If the user ends up beating it, they've achieved their goal.
Front and rear rows of LEDs help runners keep an eye on it in their peripheral vision, while forward and backward-facing GoPro cameras record their performance from the robot's point of view.
We're still waiting to hear back from Puma, but it sounds like the BeatBot will not be in a store near you anytime soon. Instead, plans call for select sponsored runners to receive the limited number of devices that are being made.
More information is available in the video below.