Developers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Department of Mechanical Engineering have built their most advanced 'mini cheetah' robot yet.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on March 6, 2019

The robot feline can move across uneven terrain, bend and swing its legs, survive falls and even perform full backflips. While not primarily built for speed, the robot can cover an impressive 2.45m (8 feet) per second.

It weighs just 9 kgs(20lbs) and has been designed to rebalance itself when kicked or pushed. It can even walk ‘upside down’ and continue to move at top speed when it is completely tipped over.

The versatile battery-powered robot can also ‘pronk’ like an antelope, moving forward in short bursts by bouncing.

The robot cheetah is small but durable

The robot’s predecessor, the third iteration of the mini cheetah, could move more quickly but this model has been designed for greater adaptability and range of motion.

It was also conceived to be “virtually indestructible” and easy to repair if something goes wrong.

“You could put these parts together, almost like Legos,” says Benjamin Katz, Lead Developer on the project. “The robot is super robust and doesn’t break easily, and if it does break, it’s easy and not very expensive to fix.”

Sangbae Kim, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, said the plan is to develop other four-legged robots and loan them to other laboratories, allowing them to test out new algorithms with a highly dynamic robot.

“Eventually, I’m hoping we could have a robotic dog race through an obstacle course, where each team controls a mini cheetah with different algorithms, and we can see which strategy is more effective,” Kim says. “That’s how you accelerate research.”

There are no plans to make the robot cheetah commercially available but in the long term, researchers are hopeful that such robots could be adapted to assist in search and rescue missions.

The mini cheetah will now be presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation, which will take place in Montreal in May.

Header image credit: Bryce Vickmark