Robotics & Automation News

Market trends and business perspectives

MIT demonstrates four-legged robot that can jump like a cheetah

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has demonstrated a four-legged robot that can jump around like a cheetah. Indeed the robot itself is called Cheetah and is being developed as a first responder to help in emergencies.

This is the third version of the Cheetah robot and it looks like other four-legged robots being developed by companies such as AnyBotics and Boston Dynamics.

They look like hugely complex machines and the manoeuvres that they can perform – from simple walking to jumping around – are highly sophisticated and represent great technical achievement. 

Whether there is a market for these things remains to be seen, but it’s very early days for the technology and prices are likely to be high for a while.

The target market is security services and the industrial sector which could find such mobile equipment useful in hazardous environments where humans would not be able to go and neither would wheeled robots.

Sangbae Kim, an associate professor and the director at the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Biomimetic Robotics Lab, says the new Cheetah is being developed into a commercially viable robot with enhancements such as a greater payload capability, wider range of motion, and a dexterous gripping function.

The Cheetah III will initially act as a spectral inspection robot in hazardous environments such as a compromised nuclear plant or chemical factory. It will then evolve to serve other emergency response needs.

Kim says: “The Cheetah II was focused on high-speed locomotion and agile jumping, but was not designed to perform other tasks.

“With the Cheetah III, we put a lot of practical requirements on the design so it can be an all-around player. It can do high-speed motion and powerful actions, but it can also be very precise.”

MIT’s Biomimetic Robotics Lab is also finishing up a smaller, stripped down version of the Cheetah, called the Mini Cheetah, designed for robotics research and education.

Other projects include a teleoperated humanoid robot called the Hermes that provides haptic feedback to human operators.

There’s also an early-stage investigation into applying Cheetah-like actuator technology to address mobility challenges among the disabled and elderly.

Kim says: “With the Cheetah project, I was initially motivated by copying land animals, but I also realized there was a gap in ground mobility.

“We have conquered air and water transportation, but we haven’t conquered ground mobility because our technologies still rely on artificially paved roads or rails.

“None of our transportation technologies can reliably travel over natural ground or even man-made environments with stairs and curbs. Dynamic legged robots can help us conquer mobility on the ground.”

Kim says Cheetah is being specifically developed for work at power plants which may in hazardous conditions.

He says: “We increased the torque so it can open the heavy doors found in power plants. We increased the range of motion to 12 degrees of freedom by using 12 electric motors that can articulate the body and the limbs.”

A similar robot, produced by AnyBotics, called Anymal, is also being marketed as a potential first responder in emergencies.

Although it hasn’t received as much publicity as the four-legged robots produced by Boston Dynamics, Anymal did manage to win an audition to appear in The X-Files robotics and automation episode, in which Mulder and Scully are terrorised by technology.

Anymal’s makers say their star robot is multi-talented and can “crawl, walk, run, dance, jump, climb, carry – whatever the task requires”.

Developed as a multi-purpose robot platform, Anymal is said to be applicable on industrial indoor or outdoor sites for inspection and manipulation tasks, in natural terrain or debris areas for search and rescue tasks, or on stage for animation and, of course, entertainment.