MIT researchers upgrade Cheetah robot

After beating the speed record set by Usain Bolt (the world's fastest man), MIT’s four-legged robot called Cheetah is now coming after Aries Merritt (the world's fastest hurdler).

The university's Biometrics Robotics Lab has upgraded Cheetah with new algorithms, which will allow it to detect and jump over obstacles up to 40 centimeters tall. This would make Cheetah the first robot to handle obstacles autonomously.

Sangbae Kim, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT said, “A running jump is a truly dynamic behavior. 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”.

The researchers installed (Light Detection and Ranging) LIDAR technology on the robot to map out its surrounding terrain.

LIDAR is also used in self-driving cars when they bounce laser pulses off their surroundings and record the time they take to return to the source to estimate distances.

After installing the LIDAR to create Cheetah's new jumping ability, the researchers designed a trio of algorithms.

The first detected an obstacle and estimated its size and distance, the second gauged where Cheetah's feet needed to be at the start of its jump and the third calculated the amount of force needed to clear the obstacle.

Kim explained that although it’s feasible to optimize these algorithms for energy efficiency, which enables the robot to clear the obstacle, this is dangerous. Getting robots to act like agile wild cats is a difficult task.

It is important to manage balance and energy and be able to handle impact after landing. The robot has been designed specifically for those highly dynamic behaviors.

The researchers will demo the robot at the DARPA Robotics Challenge in June. They will present their engineering techniques to their academic peers in July at the Science and Systems robotics conference.