October 7, 2013
Engineering Firm Boston Dynamics Unveils New All-Terrain WildCat Robot
[ Watch the Video: WildCat Robot Can Cover All Terrains ]
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe OnlineBoston Dynamics, who just over a year ago established a new land-speed record for robots with legs, has unveiled its latest creation, a four-legged machine designed to travel quickly on all types of terrain.
The robot, which is known as the WildCat, is being developed by the Massachusetts-based engineering firm with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Maximum Mobility and Manipulation Program (M3) robotics enhancement program.
In an online video demonstrating what the machine is capable of, Boston Dynamics reported that the WildCat has reached speeds of approximately 16 miles per hour on flat terrain thus far. Marc Raibert, a former Carnegie Mellon University and MIT professor and the founder of Boston Dynamics, told Los Angeles Times reporter Deborah Netburn that the company has been working on WildCat for about a year.
He said the robot was envisioned as a next-generation version of their Cheetah robot, which was the robot which set the previously mentioned land-speed record by traveling 28 miles per hour in September 2012. However, there is one important difference between the two, Raibert told Netburn – unlike WildCat, Cheetah required a boom-like support system, and unlike Cheetah, WildCat has to carry its own power source.
“WildCat's current top speed… is significantly slower than Cheetah's… but we can only speculate as to whether that's a limitation imposed by the on-board power, the gait, or simply the fact that WildCat is (as far as we know) a newish robot that probably has a lot of refinement in its future,” explained Evan Ackerman of IEEE Spectrum. “We also don't know how well WildCat might perform outside of a parking lot, or whether it's capable of the same sort of sensor-based obstacle avoidance as LS3 [another Boston Dynamics product] is.”
“WildCat seems like a smaller, lightweight version of Boston Dynamics' notorious AlphaDog, an all-terrain brute designed to carry equipment for soldiers. But it's not as quick as its tethered predecessor Cheetah, also designed by Boston Dynamics for DARPA, with a top speed of 28.3 mph – faster than Usain Bolt,” added CNET’s Tim Hornyak.
Bolt, a Jamaican sprinter and six-time Olympic gold medal winner, set a world record for the fastest human in 2009, reaching speeds of 27.78 miles per hour during the 20-meter portion of a 100-meter race. Cheetah was able to top that rate of travel, achieving speeds of 28.3 miles per hour in a 20-meter span on a laboratory treadmill.
As for the WildCat, once it is completed, DARPA plans to use it to offer emergency response and humanitarian aid in locations deemed too dangerous or too remote for human intervention – which requires the use of legs capable of completing locomotion to overcome rough terrain. The US defense agency’s emphasis on speed wil,l ideally, allow WildCats to navigate such terrain quickly, without needing to review algorithms for overcoming obstacles.