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Pentagon’s Cheetah Robot Deserves Olympic Gold

Written by on Friday, September 7th, 2012

Robots are slowly crawling out of infancy and they are beginning to take their first fumbling steps towards free motion. Check out this clip of Robocup, a competition that pits robots against each other in a vicious match to determine which robots are the strongest. They’re kind of cute in a way – it’s like watching a bunch of newborn puppies fumble over each other. Keep in mind that these robots represent the pinnacle of modern technology. These guys (yes, including the one that just fell on its face) are basically state-of-the-art.

So, would it surprise you to learn that the Pentagon has built a robot that can outrun the fastest runner in history?

Usain Bolt of Jamaica currently holds the world record in the 100 meter dash with a time of 9.58 seconds, topping out at a max speed of 27.78 mph. That’s the fastest human on Earth, but our bumbling robotic counterparts have somehow managed to trump Bolt’s land speed record.

The Pentagon and Boston Dynamics teamed up to create the Cheetah robot, a dog-sized quadruped designed to burn up the treadmill and exceed human running speeds. This bizarre-looking machine managed to just barely beat out Usain’s record by hitting a top speed of 28.3 miles per hour before it began to lose its balance and crash.

This is a breakthrough for the world of robotics, but a Boston Dynamic press release reminds the world that they’ve still got a long way to go before robots can truly trump humans on the race track. “To be fair,” it read, “keep in mind that the Cheetah Robot runs on a treadmill cialis without wind drag and has an off-board power supply that it does not carry. So Bolt is still the superior athlete.” And it’s years away from coming close to matching a real cheetah, with a top speed of about 70 mph.

The ability to walk has always been a particularly treacherous stepping stone for brave robots. The only thing I’ve ever heard of that even comes close to balanced walking is Big Dog, which is simply too creepy to mass produce.

In the past, the US military has avoided the problem of balanced robotic walking by throwing wheels onto drones and driving them around like cars. The major problem with that approach is that they have difficulty overcoming rubble, stairs, or other irregular surfaces. The Cheetah robot brings robots one step closer towards walking, but the ironic thing is that it might be too little, too late.

Aerial drones are advancing at break-neck speeds, and we already have small, agile quadrotor drones that can safely navigate tight spaces. So, why should the Pentagon bother investing money in a fast, land-based drone when we already have flying drones that can move twice as fast at half the cost? It’s hard to say where the Pentagon intends to take this new technology, but robotic engineers will have to pull out all the stops if they want land-based drones to compete with high-powered aerial drones.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? Who would have thought that we would have mastered self-sufficient flying robots long before walking robots. This truly is a case wherein we learned to fly before learning how to run, before learning how to walk.

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