The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency proudly released a video of it’s latest record-breaking achievement Thursday, a robot that can outrun the world’s fastest human.
DARPA explains on its You Tube post:
DARPA’s Cheetah robot—already the fastest legged robot in history—just broke its own land speed record of 18 miles per hour (mph). 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 27.78 mph for a 20-meter split during the 100-meter sprint. Cheetah was recently clocked at 28.3 mph for a 20-meter split. The Cheetah had a slight advantage over Bolt as it ran on a treadmill, the equivalent of a 28.3 mph tail wind, but most of the power Cheetah used was to swing 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. The increase in speed since results were last reported in March 2012 is due to improved control algorithms and a more powerful pump.
DARPA’s intent with the Cheetah bot and its other robotics programs is to attempt 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. By drawing inspiration from nature, DARPA gains technological building blocks that create possibilities for a whole range of robots suited to future Department of Defense missions.
DARPA’s website adds this quote:
“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.”
“Department of Defense missions”? Hmmm. Wonder what that could mean.
Fortunately, the BBC asked the right question:
Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, has mixed feelings about the development.
“It’s an incredible technical achievement, but it’s unfortunate that it’s going to be used to kill people,” he suggested.
“It’s going to be used for chasing people across the desert, I would imagine. I can’t think of many civilian applications – maybe for hunting, or farming, for rounding up sheep.
“But of course if it’s used for combat, it would be killing civilians as well as it’s not going to be able to discriminate between civilians and soldiers.”
Ah, yes. That old “collateral damage.”