By David Crane
defrev (at) gmail (dot) com
March 6, 2012
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Department of Defense (DoD), and Boston Dynamics (BDI) are developing a robotic cheetah called, appropriately, “Cheetah“. The DARPA/Boston Dynamics development team obviously figured that if you’re going to design a high-speed four-legged running robot, you might as model it on the world’s fastest land mammal. In doing so, they’ve studied all aspects of cheetah locomotion, and incorporated/copied the way the Cheetah’s spring-like back flexes for maximum power and stride length.
At present, the robotic cheetah can only reach 18 mph, and is relegated to running on a treadmill. However, DARPA’s goal is for the cheetah robot to one day be able to achieve 60-70 mph (live cheetah speed) and be able to do all the quick directional maneuvers that the animal can do. While a recent Fox New York news article had the following to say about it: “The website reported that DARPA has not yet revealed what the robot will be used for. Along with its eventual high speeds, the device could be designed so it can zigzag to chase and evade. It could be used for emergency response, firefighting, advanced agriculture and vehicular travel”, Cheetah’s a DARPA project, so its obviously intended to be an all-terrain combat robot first and foremost.
A note on the end-goal 60-70-mph speed capability: That kind of performance may seem like a tall order at present, but military robotics (and robotics in general) is advancing exponentially, so a 60-70-mph robotic cheetah isn’t that far-fetched of an idea, especially when you see the prototype run in the embedded video below, although the robot strangely appears to be running backwards in the vid.
Eventually, the development team will most-likely give it a camouflaged paint scheme or even integrate multi-spectrum adaptive camouflage (visible, thermal/IR (Infrared), and night vision/near-IR light spectrums). It will be interesting to see whether or not the DARPA/Boston Dynamics team designs and develops a nice robotic cheetah skull (jaws, teeth and all) and non-retractable claws with dew claws for Cheetah, just like on the actual animal, along with some decent artificial intelligence, so it can actually operate either autonimously or semi-autonimously and attack things (i.e., humans) when it catches them, a la “AMEE”(Autonomous Mapping Exploration and Evasion), the military combat bot (combat robot) from Red Planet (2000), a futuristic film about a very problematic 2056 Mars mission. While they’re at it, they might as well develop a lightweight mini-guided-missile launcher (and missiles) for it and/or embed explosives in it, so a remote operator can blow up targets with it.
One of the primary challenges for Cheetah will be designing and developing an adequate battery and power system for it and hardening it agains EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) attacks.
At the risk of coming across as a bunch of ludites, DefenseReview’s (DR) two primary concerns with Cheetah and all other robotic development is that they will one day either be misused/abused by governments to control, fight and kill their own citizens/populations, and/or that humanity will run into a Skynet situation, where the robots become self-aware and decide to enslave or destroy us. Both situations are not only possible, but, as some scientists will argue, perhaps even probable. So, we should probably live it up while we can.
Photo(s) Credit: Boston Dynamics
Company Contact Info:
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
3701 North Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22203-1714
General Info: 703-526-6630
Director’s Office: 703-696-2400
PAO Email: [email protected]
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