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Cheetah Robot Breaks Usain Bolt’s 100m Speed Record

DARPA's Cheetah robot is already the fastest legged robot ever made. That apparently isn't enough though, as it has just broken its own land speed record of 28.8 km/h.

DARPA's Cheetah robot is already the fastest legged robot ever made. That apparently isn't enough though, as it has just broken its own land speed record of 28.8 km/h.

"Broken" may be an understatement, as with a new recorded speed of 45.3 km/h, you could say that Cheetah has taken the old record and smashed it into a hundred little pieces, leaving the mess behind for all to see.

In the process, Cheetah also surpassed another very fast mover: Usain Bolt. According to the International Association of Athletics Federations, Bolt set the world speed record for a human in 2009 when he reached a peak speed of 44.5 km/h for a 20-metre split during the 100-metre sprint. The Cheetah had a slight advantage over Bolt as it ran on a treadmill, but most of the power Cheetah used was to swing and lift its legs fast enough, not to propel itself forward. 

Cheetah is being developed and tested under DARPA's Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program by Boston Dynamics. One of the program's main goals is to enhance robot movement and capabilities in natural and degraded manmade environments where defense personnel often operate.

To contribute to emergency response, humanitarian assistance and other defense missions, a robot needs to negotiate difficult terrain. Most rough-terrain robots use wheels or tracks to ride over bumps; however, the most difficult terrain demands the use of legs, as legs can step over both high obstacles and deep ditches. DARPA is working to create legged robots that don't sacrifice speed for mobility on rough terrain.

DARPA intends to test a prototype on natural terrain next year, but for now Cheetah runs on a treadmill in a lab to allow researchers to monitor its progress, refine algorithms and maintain its moving parts. The current version of the Cheetah robot is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump and uses a boom-like device to keep it running in the center of the treadmill. The increase in speed since results were last reported in March 2012 is due to improved control algorithms and a more powerful pump.

How does it compare to its real-life counterpart? Not that well, as cheetahs have been clocked at over 100km/h, but outright speed isn't the goal of the reasearch.

"Modeling the robot after a cheetah is evocative and inspiring, but our goal is not to copy nature. What DARPA is doing with its robotics programs is attempting to understand and engineer into robots certain core capabilities that living organisms have refined over millennia of evolution: efficient locomotion, manipulation of objects and adaptability to environments," said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager.

"Cheetahs happen to be beautiful examples of how natural engineering has created speed and agility across rough terrain. Our Cheetah bot borrows ideas from nature's design to inform stride patterns, flexing and unflexing of parts like the back, placement of limbs and stability. What we gain through Cheetah and related research efforts are technological building blocks that create possibilities for a whole range of robots suited to future Department of Defense missions."

VR-Zone is a leading online technology news publication reporting on bleeding edge trends in PC and mobile gadgets, with in-depth reviews and commentaries.

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