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DARPA’s New ‘Cheetah’ Robot is Fastest on Land

The Pentagon’s main research agency has created the fastest-ever land robot, named “Cheetah,” which can gallop at a speed of 18 mil...



The Pentagon’s main research agency has created the fastest-ever land robot, named “Cheetah,” which can gallop at a speed of 18 miles (29 kilometers) per hour, scientists said this week.

The headless robot looks to be about the size of a small dog and is shown running on a treadmill in pictures and video released March 5 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“The robot’s movements are patterned after those of fast-running animals in nature,” DARPA said in a statement. “The robot increases its stride and running speed by flexing and unflexing its back on each step, much as an actual cheetah does.”

Cheetah’s dash has set a “new land speed record for legged robots,” besting the previous holder of 13.1 mph set by a team at MIT in 1989, the agency said.

Cheetah can move significantly faster than the average human’s running pace, but it still couldn’t keep up with Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who has clocked nearly 28 mph.

The robot was created by Boston Dynamics in Waltham, Mass., and was funded as part of DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program, which seeks to advance robotic technology.

Such speedy robots could better help the U.S. military with missions to dispose of roadside bombs and navigate other battlefield perils, DARPA said, declining an interview request for more information.

“The use of ground robots in military explosive-ordinance-disposal missions already saves many lives and prevents thousands of other casualties,” the statement said. “If the current limitations on mobility and manipulation capabilities of robots can be overcome, robots could much more effectively assist warfighters across a greater range of missions.”

The machine is essentially a laboratory animal for now, powered by an off-board hydraulic pump. A boom-like device helps it stay on track in the center of the treadmill.

But Alfred Rizzi, Boston Dynamics’ chief robotics scientist, said field tests for a free-running machine are planned for this year.

“This machine is really a mostly science-driven project to try and understand the limits of how fast we can actually make a legged machine go,” he said.

DARPA has previously funded Boston Dynamics to build other roving robots such as the Big Dog, which can travel up to 12.8 mph and navigate wet trails and 35-degree slopes carrying up to 340 pounds (154 kilograms).

Another robot design known as LS3 aims to build on the Big Dog by carrying more weight and traveling further, going “anywhere soldiers and marines go on foot,” the company said in a release.

The driver-free LS3 will carry up to 400 pounds of gear and enough fuel to move 20 miles in 24 hours, automatically following a designated leader, or using sensing and GPS equipment to travel on its own.

The LS3, funded by DARPA and the U.S. Marine Corps, is scheduled to make its public debut this year.




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