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MIT’s cheetah robot can run 5 mph and jump right into your nightmares

Researchers at MIT have created a robotic cheetah that can run at an average speed of 5 mph and jump over obstacles up to 18 inches tall. In other words, police dogs are officially put on notice.

The Cheetah 2, which currently doesn’t have a fancier moniker, is a headless, four-legged machine that can plan out a path, detect obstacles in its way, estimate an object’s height, and approximate how far away it is. After jumping over an obstruction, the cheetah bot is able to resume its usual running pace.

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“A running jump is a truly dynamic behavior,” said Sangbae Kim, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “You have to manage balance and energy, and be able to handle impact after landing. Our robot is specifically designed for those highly dynamic behaviors.”

The robot’s successful run on an indoor track in September was done “blind,” without using any cameras or other vision systems. The Cheetah 2 has since been equipped with a light-detection and ranging (LIDAR) system, which uses reflections from a laser distance sensor to map out the environment ahead of it. This enables the robot to function autonomously, free from human control.

The cheetah robot successfully jumped over about 70 percent of obstacles up to 18 inches tall (more than half its own height) in experiments on a treadmill, in which it had just 1 meter to detect obstacles and plan its jumps.

In separate experiments on an indoor track, which gave the Cheetah 2 more space and time to see, approach, and leap over obstacles, it successfully jumped over about 90 percent of objects in its path.

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Kim says the team is working on enabling its robotic cheetah to jump over objects while running on softer terrain.

The MIT team will demo the Cheetah 2 at the DARPA Robotics Challenge, which will take place June 5-6 in Pomona, California. The team will also present a paper in July detailing its autonomous leaping robot.