The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New algorithm could help ‘cheetah’ robot outrun humans soon

Placeholder while article actions load

It looks more like a hunchbacked dog or a short, portly buffalo, but by current robotics standards this MIT creation is a pretty sleek approximation of a cheetah.

But what makes this bot so cheetah-like isn't the shape of its metal frame. Thanks to a new algorithm, the robot also moves like earth's fastest land animal. Sort of.

Cheetahs reach their impressive speeds (a maximum of about 60 miles per hour) by "bounding," or pumping their back legs in tandem. To get a robot to move the same way, engineers had to program its legs not just to hit the ground at the exact same time, but to exert specific amounts of force on the ground. The higher the force, the faster the bound propels the robot -- but only if the limbs are in sync.

Right now the robot can achieve speeds of around 10 mph and jump just over a foot without losing speed. It can also handle bumpy and uneven terrain, which many robots wouldn't be able to balance on, let alone bound right through. In time, the researchers say, the design could reach speeds of 30 mph. That's faster than our quickest human sprinter on record, so let's hope that MIT is working on making these cheetahs friendly, too.