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Robotics The Military Technology

DARPA-Funded 'Cheetah' Breaks Speed Record For Legged Robots 96

Sparrowvsrevolution writes "Boston Dynamics, a Waltham, Massachusetts technology firm and DARPA contractor, announced Monday that it's broken the speed record for running, legged robots. Its new four-legged creation is Cheetah, a robot that can run at 18 miles an hour, far faster than the 13.1 miles per hour record set by MIT in 1989. The video it's released shows Cheetah running on a treadmill, but the company hopes to both increase the robot's speed and take it onto outdoor terrain in the near future. Boston Dynamics rose to fame with its four-legged cargo robot Big Dog which showed an uncanny ability to walk over terrain and recover its footing even when it slips or is kicked. The firm followed up with Petman, a two-legged prototype that applies the same technology to human-style walking."
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DARPA-Funded 'Cheetah' Breaks Speed Record For Legged Robots

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  • All hail.. (Score:4, Funny)

    by lazycam ( 1007621 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @06:59PM (#39255065)
    Our fast moving robotic overlords! Kinda scary to think about the military applications...
  • Unfortunatly, it's all about building killing machines and machines that support killing machines...

    That's where the money is.

    • by oodaloop ( 1229816 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @07:24PM (#39255361)
      Right. Because the only use of a running robot is killing people. Also, nothing DARPA ever worked on contributed to society. Especially not ARPANET.
      • by Squiddie ( 1942230 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @08:26PM (#39255893)
        I don't know man, I really can't think of a lot of things to do with a robot other than having it run after terrified people. Terminator ruined me.
      • by DogDude ( 805747 )
        Good point. So why can't we spend research on healing people, growing more food, educating people, etc. and let the military pick up the byproducts from that research to kill people better, instead of the other way around?
        • and let the military pick up the byproducts from that research to kill people better

          Anyone foolish enough to do that would be eradicated by a country that spends more money on its military. You are descended from a long line of bloodthirsty merciless warriors who vanquished pacifists and lesser warriors and raped what women they left behind. OK, that's a small exageration, but still. We are still alive because of the defenses we have erected.

          • Did you just say the U.S. is planning to eradicate the rest of the world?

          • You are aware that the US spends approximately the same amount on military as does the entire rest of the world combined...? Maybe we could dial that down just a little bit.
      • BTW, how did that ARPANET project turn out?

      • by jovius ( 974690 )

        Of course DARPA provided ARPANET, but the kind of global network would have been inevitably created. Military spending is not necessary; it's just the current paradigm. Research is being globally fueled by our fear of others, which is also being instigated for militarist purposes. The reality could be different.

      • by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @03:53AM (#39258769)
        So what are the applications? Boston Dynamic's Big Dog robot is able to move over uneven terrain and carry a large load, but it's fairly slow, so it's limited to a sort of robotic pack mule role. The emphasis on speed here means this new robot is intended for some other kind of role. I can see three potential roles for this thing in combat.

        The first is as a scout- basically, the robot can walk point, look for potential ambushes or IEDs, run behind and see if anyone is following, or run up to the top of a hill to look around. A human could do the exact same thing, of course, but these are dangerous roles, and the robot is expendable.

        The second role is to act as a highly mobile fire team. Assuming you built a larger version of this thing, about the size of a person, you could arm it with a light machine gun. If a unit comes under attack, the robot could then rapidly move to take another position and shoot back at the enemy or provide covering fire. Again, this role could also be performed by a person, but it's less dangerous to have the robot open fire while you're pinned down than to stand up and risk getting shot.

        The third role is the one that immediately leaps to mind when you see this thing run, and that's a hunter-killer. This is the first robot that can actually chase down a person. A robotic vehicle might be faster, but it can't move over uneven terrain. Big Dog can move over uneven terrain, but it's not fast enough. You can hide from a flying drone. This thing could chase down and kill people. Stick a gun on it, or perhaps a Hellfire missile, and you'd have the terrestrial equivalent of a Predator drone.

  • by erice ( 13380 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @07:10PM (#39255179) Homepage

    A good companion project would be smaller robot that runs at only 9mph but for longer distances. Call it "Gazelle"

  • by Megahard ( 1053072 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @07:17PM (#39255285)
    At 18 mph tops, a better name would be Hippo [].
    • by msobkow ( 48369 )

      Hippos have been clocked at 30 km/h (19 mph) over short distances.

      As impressive as it is for a walking robot to achieve this kind of speed, I'd be a lot more impressed if it were demonstrating the ability to adapt to real terrain while doing so. Running on a treadmill is a disgustingly controlled environment compared to the real worlds, and what I've always found fascinating about robotics is the ideas people have for algorithms that can adapt to an unpredictable and far-from-level world.

    • Yes. Of all the cheetah robots which can run at 18mph, this one is definitely the worst.

      Jeez give them a break.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Or does that thing look like its running backwards?

    • Exactly. I was wondering why in real life everything that had feet had forward facing feet (bent in the direction of running), but this robot has backward facing feet (bent away from the direction of running). It seems very non-intuitive. Or are there animals with feet pointing away from the direction of movement?

      This is also seen, somewhat, in the BigDog robot, where the legs bend the wrong way, all the knees pointing toward the middle of the body.

      I can see how the "feet" here help it grab onto the gr

      • by aiht ( 1017790 )
        In my head, it has no feet - just legs going straight down to the ground, like hooves. If you picture that bottom joint as a knee instead of an ankle, then it looks a lot like a running animal.
        It's just like the Necker cube, or the old woman / young woman illusion - you can flip the way you see it from being a clown-footed weird thing running backwards to being a footless catlike animal running forwards.
  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @07:24PM (#39255355) Journal

    I thought that robot was kinda cool because it showed how superhumanly fast and agile our robot overlords will become.

    Even if this robot (when eventually built with an on board power supply) can "only" go 18 mph, remember that unlike a real cheetah, it will presumably be able to keep it up for miles (I think cheetahs can only maintain this speed for a quarter mile). That's because the real cheetah is limited by heat buildup, presumably the motors and power source of this inorganic machine can operate at much higher temperatures so is limited not by heat buildup but fuel capacity.

    Pretty scary if one of these things was chasing you down.

    • Pretty scary if one of these things was chasing you down.

      Nothing a baseball bat wouldn't fix.

  • I watched the videos and all I could think was, can we feed it off the local terrain?
    If necessary can we eat it?

    Seriously, the support systems for these will need to be as complex as the machines themselves. However, they are pretty cool.


  • by douglas.barton ( 1643183 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @07:31PM (#39255419)
    If it can backpeddle at 18MPH, how fast can it go forward?
  • Anyone else thought this cheetah is running ass-backwards? I kept waiting for the treadmill to reverse....

  • First impression; headless robot chicken that dances. At 18mph, the waddling stopped and it looked like a headless goat zombie cyborg from hell. God help us all.
  • by cvtan ( 752695 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @07:45PM (#39255561)
    1) 18mph is "terrifyingly fast" now?

    2) I can't tell the head from the tail.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      1) compared to what you can run? yes
      2) Not yet... but you certainly will when they give it teeth, and lasers, and laser-teeth

      • Oh no! The robot cheetahs are attacking! Weapons ready... wait for it... waaaait for it... wha ate for grzzzz...
    • how many humans do you know who can run at that speed for more than a few minutes? the day someone escapes from jail and they'll send these toys after them, they will most likely be terrified...
      at the moment, they seem to still need an ombilical cord though, so I agree that they're not that scary.

      for your second item: in the future, the head will be the end with the shark lasers attached to it.

      • by gknoy ( 899301 )


        It's "terrifying" when you imagine it chasing after people while loaded with weapons. Inmates, protesters, mistakenly identified civilians in Elbonia. Something like this, armed with a taser or more conventional weapon (or even a sonic one intended to incapacitate you) is very much a robotic predator. It will almost certainly be taught to climb stairs, modified to carry weapons, and probably have either a remote control, or the ability to home in on a tracking device.

        Sure, there will be some situa

  • It couldn't help the crew of the Planet Express ship but, I wonder if they rubbed cheetah blood on it?

  • Here's a random video of cheetahs running []. Notice how the cheetah extends it spine when pushing off with its back legs, and contracts it when landing on its front legs? It seems like this would be a simple improvement for a robot "spine", which doesn't have a spinal cord in it: Just add a piston in the middle to expand and contract.

    • Great idea! []

      The robot's movements are patterned after those of fast-running animals in nature. The robot increases its stride and running speed by flexing and un-flexing its back on each step, much as an actual cheetah does.

    • by stjobe ( 78285 )

      Watch the video again - and make sure to stay tuned until it hits the higher speeds.

      It does exactly what you say it should, it's quite easy to see in the slow-motion 18 mph parts.

  • At 16 mph you could qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the men's 1500 M. At 18 mph you could set the world record in the 1500 and take home a gold medal. At 18.6 mph you are unrelenting.
  • Why exactly are they developing something like this? For what practical use is a quadrapedal robot that can outrun a human? Why don't they just give it big metal teeth an an unquenchable thirst for blood?
  • physics - fail

    mathematics - fail

    basic logic - fail

    PR - win!

    • Wow, are you accepting bets that wind resistance will stop this thing in its tracks? I'll take that bet.

      Personally I'd worry more about getting an onboard powerplant, but that's just me.

    • You know, Big Dog started on a treadmill also. It may surprise you to learn that they don't build a completely autonomous prototype every time they want to test new things.

      • that it can go 18 mph.

        • It can clearly run at 18mph. Wind resistance is not a constant. If it was running outside with an 18mph tailwind, would that convince you? Because that's exactly what it's like on a treadmill. There's no reason to assume a 40mph headwind, or no wind at all for that matter. The treadmill is moving at 18mph, and the robot is keeping up. The goal is beyond 18mph anyway, so once this thing gets out of the lab it's going to be going faster than 18mph with or without wind.

          Furthermore, the prototype on the t

  • It's amazing that at a time when we have people short on food, housing, education, and basic medical care in the US, that there's no shortage of money for researching how to kill people better. At least we can still say we're #1 at something... :|
  • 2.5 MPH = 4 kph
    10 MPH = 16 kph
    12.5 MPH = 20 kph
    18.5 MPH = 30 kph

    It's funny how you get all round numbers when you convert to standard units.

  • Say what you will but I live close enough to Waltham that I'm now worried about these things coming to my house in the middle of the night. It's like a prototype for the Rat Things in Snow Crash...
    • Say what you will but I live close enough to Waltham that I'm now worried about these things coming to my house in the middle of the night. It's like a prototype for the Rat Things in Snow Crash...

      So you made the connection too... thought of them as soon as I saw it!

      Thankfully, didn't see any hint of organics in there... ;-)

  • DARPA has been very successful in getting the general public and academia involved in helping them to figure out how to make war robots, which you've gotta admit has to be their only goal.

    They are a cool group, to be sure, but should we really be so enthusiastic?  I mean JDAM's are cool and all, but personal house invasion robot's are not.

    And they are inevitable.  But why accelerate the process?
  • So the robot can run in a straight line on a perfectly smooth surface with perfect traction; cool but it has a long way to go. Wait till one of those spikes it call feet digs in or slides on some gravel. Show me when you can do this outside in real terrain.

  • This was really cool to watch, but I'm not sure how having a fast robot with appendages like these would be advantageous over a mobile robot with wheels/treads, which can already handle outdoor terrain and move considerably faster than Cheetah's 18mph. Thoughts?
    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      It would be able to climb stairs and travel across rough terrain at near maximum speed. Do it right and it will also be able to jump.
  • everytime researchers try to make something that can walk/run/whatever, they rely on components that are far less versatile than that which they are trying to emulate. i'm talking about replacing muscles with servos and other stuff. with the recent discovery of "muscle wire" i would think researchers would use this wire to build complex muscles making it possible to replace a lot of actuators with a single complex muscle.

    while very cool, i think they are going about this all wrong.

  • If this is considered a milestone, why did it take us so long to achieve a 35% increase in speed? The last time someone played with this technology there was no Internet...
  • Is this the dumbing down of science ? I design autonomous robots. Running on a treadmill is nothing compared to running on terrain! Running on a treadmill the feet and stride do not need to adapt for the terrain. The balance algorithm isn't as complicated if you are running on a treadmill. I'd imagine that this robot is pretty easy to knock off it's feet.
  • I think a real Cheeta with a controllable collar would be more useful. Even better, a swarm of collar controlled Rats.
  • I couldn't help but think of this with the mention of the big dog getting kicked... []

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger