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Boston Dynamics develops fastest record breaking four-legged robot, Cheetah

DARPA Cheetah

Researchers at the Boston Dynamics have done it again, setting the record for the fastest running robot on four legs.

The last fastest four-legged robot set the record in 1981 with running speed of 13.1 mph and was built in MIT. The Cheetah, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project’s Agency (DARPA), and not surprisingly eponymously modeled off of a cheetah, smashed the record books with speeds of up to 18 mph on a running treadmill.

The robotic runner was developed on behalf of DARPA’s Maximum, Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program which pursues two goals. The first seeks to increase the mobile capabilities of robots needed in natural environments by soldiers in war, while the second aims to reduce the costs of building what are currently costly and financially impractical robotic systems.

The Cheetah’s rapid movement and speed is achieved, according to DARPA, due to its malleable back, which flexes and un-flexes with each stride, much like the movement of a cheetah.

Boston Dynamic’s founder, Marc Raibert, revealed to Businessweek that after improvements, the Cheetah may be able to achieve speeds of up to 40 mph, which would serve the purpose of acting as a “scout robot,” or a payload mule in battlefields and civilian crisis situations.

Boston Dynamic has been at the forefront of American robotics and public’s eye, thanks to the backing of DARPA and the help of videos published on YouTube. The robotics engineering firm, founded in 1992 as a spin-off from MIT’s robot development program, is most well known for BigDog, an autonomous dog-like robot that navigates rough terrain and can upright itself when kicked down or slipping on a sheet of ice.

Some of its lesser recognized projects include the wall-climbing robot, RiSE, a portable all-terrain, swimming and diving robot, RHex, and PETMAN, an anthropomorphic running and walking robot that simulates the human physiology.

Boston Dynamic’s latest announcement, prior to the Cheetah, was the LS3, a larger and more advanced version of its cousin, BigDog. The LS3 is guided by its computer vision, programmed to follow a leader, and can carry 400 pounds of gear, while lasting for 20 miles or 24 hours on one tank of fuel.

With this early Cheetah prototype unveiled, it currently has its limitations that require support from human handlers. Like many tethered early prototypes, the Cheetah is powered by a hydraulic pump, and uses a boom-like device to prevent it from running on the center of the treadmill. Boston Dynamic is working to test a second, free-running prototype come later this year.