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Video: Boston Dynamics' Cheetah Robot Gallops at 18 mph

Boston Dynamics shows their prototype Cheetah robot breaking the legged robot speed record with an 18 mph run

2 min read
Video: Boston Dynamics' Cheetah Robot Gallops at 18 mph

Boston Dynamics and DARPA have just released video of their prototype "Cheetah" robot galloping at 18 mph (nearly 30 kph), setting a new land speed record for legged robots.

Boston Dynamics isn't calling this robot "Cheetah" just for fun: the bot's movements are all bio-inspired, patterned directly after fast-moving animals in nature like real cheetahs, horses, and even dogs. For example, you'll notice how the robot doesn't just rely on its legs, but also flexes its back with each stride, which is the same way that quadrupedal animals work.

The 18 mph test run shown in this video is definitely fast (probably faster than you), but it's not nearly fast enough, and Boston Dynamics is hoping to crank things up a notch in the coming months:

“While 18 mph is a good start, our goal is to get Cheetah running much faster and outdoors,” said Dr. Alfred Rizzi, technical lead for the Cheetah effort and Chief Robotics Scientist at Boston Dynamics. “We designed the treadmill to go over 50 mph, but we plan to get off the treadmill and into the field as soon as possible. We really want to understand the limits of what is possible for fast-moving robots.”

50 mph, for the record, is about 20 mph short of a real cheetah's maximum speed of about 70 mph. However, 50 mph is fast enough to catch a sprinting hare, and matches the speed of lions and gazelles, and the robotic Cheetah should have an endurance far surpassing any living animals.

So we've got a super fast Cheetah robot: what now? According to the press release, "the M3 program is basic research and not focused on specific military missions, fleet-footed robots such as the Cheetah could have a wide range of potential military applications." The press release goes on to suggest that Cheetah robots might be useful in emergency rescue and disaster response, although in our experience, that usually means that military applications are really the primary motivator for the design.

Cheetah is wired in to a bunch of equipment in this video (including off-board hydraulic power and a boom to keep in in the center of the treadmill), similarly to the way Boston Dynamics began testing their Alpha Dog prototype. From the sound of things, we won't have long to wait to see Cheetah running free: the company says that they'll have a "free-running version of the Cheetah that will run 'unplugged' in the field" sometime later this year. 

[ Boston Dynamics ]

[ DARPA M3 ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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