Cheetah Robot Wars

Which cheetah robot is better? Massachusett’s Institute of Technology (MIT) fired another shot in the cheetah robot wars when they announced today that the artificial 70-pound cheetah being developed by MIT’s Sangbae Kim is more efficient and wastes less energy than their competitors.

The press release, written by Jennifer Chu, said that MIT could soon outpace its animal counterparts including real cheetahs. In the latest test, the robot was able to run continuously for 90 minutes at 5 miles per hour (m/h) without wasting much energy. By comparison, living cheetahs can run at 60 m/h, but they can’t sustain their efforts, mostly running in bursts over about a quarter-mile or less.

Last summer, the Cincinnati Zoo actually set up a test run for their cheetah, named Sarah, on a USA Track & Field certified course. The 11-year-old female performed the 100-meter dash in 5.95 seconds, crushing Olympics star Usain Bolt’s 9.58 finish in the same event. She was really making tracks at a top speed of 61 m/h.

But MIT is not planning on outrunning Sarah any time soon. Their real rival is Boston Dynamic’s device, also called “Cheetah Robot.” Last fall, Boston Dynamics released video that demonstrated that their cheetah robot has also beaten Usain Bolt’s record, since it can now run at 28.3 m/h. (You’ll notice that this robot too can’t quite catch the real thing.)

MIT’s Kim explained that the Boston Dynamics (BD) robot may be faster but it’s less efficient. He said that the BD cheetah uses a gas engine and hydraulic transmissions — heavy equipment which wastes a lot of energy each time the four-footed artificial animal hits the ground. “If it could run for more than two hours and search a large field, that would be useful,” he explained. “But one of the reasons why people think it’s impossible to make an electric robot that does this is because efficiencies have been pretty bad.”

In other words, BD’s robot may be faster, but it runs out of steam too fast. MIT’s robot can last longer because of the custom design of the motors and legs. You Tube videos posted by MIT show how the cheetah robot works, including the specialized leg that can work without the use of heavy mechanical springs.

Here’s a video of the MIT Cheetah robot’s first run from last summer:

Real cheetahs are probably not worried. It’s a tortoise and the hare race between Boston Dynamics and MIT’s slower but more efficient cheetah robot.

[photo of MIT’s cheetah robot courtesy MIT]