Video: MIT Unleashes Robotic Cheetah Capable of Leaping Over Obstacles


A robotic cheetah capable of 'seeing' and jumping over hurdles as it runs, is thought to be the first four-legged robot that can do so autonomously.

The robot, designed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Biomimetics Robotics Lab, has been an ongoing project for a few years. It can already hit speeds of 10 mph (6 km/h) and jump 13 in (33 cm) into the air.

But thanks to a few upgrades - namely, an onboard LIDAR system - "a visual system that uses reflections from a laser to map terrain" according to MIT - and special algorithms that allow the robot to react to its surroundings, the robot can now 'see' - detect and leap over obstacles in its path.

In tests, the team first sent the bulky beast down a treadmill while it was tethered. Running at an average speed of 5 mph (8 km/h), the robot cleared obstacles up to 18 in (45 cm) with a success rate of around 70%.

The cheetah was then unleashed onto an indoor test track, and incredibly, accurately cleared about 90% of obstacles in its path.

As MIT explains: "To get a running jump, the robot plans out its path, much like a human runner: As it detects an approaching obstacle, it estimates that object's height and distance.

"The robot gauges the best position from which to jump, and adjusts its stride to land just short of the obstacle, before exerting enough force to push up and over. Based on the obstacle's height, the robot then applies a certain amount of force to land safely, before resuming its initial pace."

"A running jump is a truly dynamic behavior," says Sangbae Kim, 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."

Researchers are now working on getting the mighty MIT cheetah to jump over hurdles while running on softer terrain, like grass.

Kim and his colleagues will demonstrate the cheetah's prowess at the DARPA Robotics Challenge in June.