You have probably never heard of Boston Dynamics, an engineering firm based in Waltham, but the company is building some of the most cutting-edge robots in the world. Beginning as a spin-off from MIT, the company has been specializing in robots that can walk, run, gallop, climb, and move like animals. They are perhaps best-known for their record-setting feline-based robot Cheetah, whose development was funded by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a part of the DOD. Cheetah recently became the fastest “legged” robot in the world, breaking the old MIT-held record of 13.1 mph with a run of 29 mph. Yes, that’s faster than Usain Bolt, who’s maxed out at 2.78 mph, though slower than real cheetahs, which top out at 60+ mph! The key to these velocities is Cheetah’s articulating spine, which allows it to extend and contract with each stride–just like the real McCoy. Below is a video of Cheetah making its record-setting run of 29.3 mph.
Cheetah Births WildCat…But Why?
As you can see, this run was done on a treadmill, and Cheetah was “tethered”–kept centered by a boom-like device, and powered by an offboard hydraulic pump. However, the company is now working on WildCat, a free-running version powered by an onboard two-stroke. Boston Dynamics is apparently aiming for 50 mph over rough terrain. Apparently, having legs could allow a robot to cross ditches and deal with obstacles that wheeled and tracked vehicles cannot. So what’s the end goal of all this? An article in PC Magazine from last year stated the following:
One day, [DARPA] hopes to let Cheetah loose in the natural and man-made environments where defense personnel operate, allowing the robot to contribute to emergency response, humanitarian assistance, and other missions.
“Other missions,” huh? Sounds like we might not be very far from having quadruped war-machines that can operate over the rough terrain of places like Afghanistan, which has battered our Humvees and other “tired” vehicles.