Robotic cheetahs aren’t new. Boston Dynamics, of course, made them famous in August 2012 when its Cheetah robot ran on a treadmill at 28 MPH, setting a land speed record for legged robots. Then in 2015 MIT unveiled a robotic cheetah that sees and jumps hurdles as it runs, making it the first four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously.
Now there’s a new mini robot cheetah being developed courtesy University of Twente researcher Geert Folkertsma. He spent four years researching and developing a scaled-down robotic version of the world’s fastest land animal to hopefully replicate its movements.
Folkertsma says his cheetah robot weighs 5.5 lb and is 11.8 inches long, twenty times lighter and four times smaller than a real cheetah. Proportionally, it uses about fifteen percent more energy than a real cheetah.
All of these cheetah robots have been built with the hope of improving the gait of legged robots, which is typically very inefficient.
“I wanted to create a robot that runs the same way [as a cheetah], with the aim of applying this knowledge to the development of new robots,” Folkertsma explains. “Robots are bound to play an increasingly important part in our daily lives and we therefore have to ensure that they can move effectively in our environment. My robot vacuum cleaner, for example, cannot climb stairs or even cope with thresholds. We therefore need to develop robots that can walk and when it comes to moving around efficiently, there’s a lot we can learn from the cheetah.”
Robotics Trends has reached out to the University of Twente to see if there’s any video of the robot cheetah. We’ll update this post if video becomes available. Folkertsma will defend his PhD thesis entitled “Energy-based and biomimetic robotics” at the university on April 21, 2017.
Folkertsma cheetah robot can currently reach a speed of 0.6 MPH, which Folkertsma says is quite a pace for such a small robot. “More research is needed to enable it to run as fast as a real cheetah, relatively speaking. That would entail getting up to a speed of around twenty kilometres per hour [12.5 MPH]. A Master’s student is currently working on a newly developed robotic leg and the first tests, focusing on a single leg, are already promising. With four legs of this type, the robot will be able to run much faster; I think this will help us make genuine advances.”
Folkertsma studied extensive video footage of cheetahs and used software to analyse their movements. The backbone proves crucial to the power this big cat generates. Bending and extending its spine enables the cheetah to move efficiently, run exceptionally fast and make huge leaps.
“The main difference between existing walking robots and my cheetah robot is therefore the backbone,” Folkertsma says. “The trick was to imitate it without complicating matters unnecessarily: instead of vertebrae and intervertebral discs, we worked with a cleverly placed spring which delivers approximately the same effect. Cheetahs are also able to store a lot of energy in their muscles for later use. This too is something we have imitated by fitting carefully selected springs in our robot’s legs.”