Four-legged animals can bound and gallop, maintaining their balance even though they all four legs come off the ground. Boston Dynamics, the same robotics company that brought us the humanoid robots Petman and Atlas as well as the Big Dog that can fling cinder blocks, has just unveiled a machine that can bound and gallop like a horse or cheetah. Called the WildCat, its the fastest un-tethered, four-legged robot in world.
Earlier models of the robot, called the Cheetah, were tethered and ran on treadmills. The big challenge was making one that cold turn and recover its balance. In a just-released video the WildCat can be seen running and bounding, with a galloping gait that mimics what animals do, though the forward-bending “knees” make the robot look a bit like it is running backwards.
Like the other independently mobile robots Boston Dynamics has built, this one runs on a gasoline engine; the noise it makes is quite loud. It can hit top speeds of about 16 miles per hour. That’s not as fast as the tethered version, which could hit 27 mph, but it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.
Boston Dynamics is developing the robots with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has been looking into mobile robots for some years as replacements for certain kinds of vehicles. Jokes aside about a “robotic ass,” the point is to have a kind of pack animal that could supplement vehicles over rough terrain, and even a type of unmanned drone that could run around on the ground and need no roads.
Speaking of which, the WildCat will have to show it can run on a bigger variety of terrain, but given what Boston Dynamics has accomplished so far, that day will come soon — and we may be running from the sounds of lawnmower engines.
Image: YouTube screen grab / Boston Dynamics