The Cheetah robot, originally developed for DARPA, is the world's fastest robot, with a land speed record of 28.3 mph. It reached that speed on a treadmill, tethered to a power supply.
This week, researchers at MIT reported that they developed a computer program that unleashes the Cheetah robot. In tests, the robot sprinted up to 10 mph - not as fast as tethered, but the machine also cleared a hurdle and kept on running. Such robots could be used to assist military personnel in the field.
The MIT researchers think that the robot could be tweaked to reach 30 mph untethered.
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The computer program, or algorithm, improved the efficiency of the robot's running, precisely distributing energy around its four limbs and exerting a tiny bit of force each time a limb hits the ground. The faster the robot runs, the more force needs to be exerted. The program is able to achieve the force precision thanks to custom-designed, high-torque-density electric motor and doesn't need information from force sensors on the feet.
Sangbae Kim, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, said in a press release the tiny bit of force applied when the foot hits the ground is similar to what happens when human sprinters run.
"Many sprinters, like Usain Bolt, don't cycle their legs really fast," Kim said. "They actually increase their stride length by pushing downward harder and increasing their ground force, so they can fly more while keeping the same frequency."
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Controlling the forces more precisely gives the robot more stability.
The scientists will give details of the bounding algorithm this month at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Chicago. In the meantime, watch the video below.