The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Biomimetic Robotics Laboratory has created a new robot – the world’s first four-legged robot capable of doing elegant backflips. Dubbed Mini Cheetah, it can walk on different terrains at twice the speed of the average human being and even walk upside down. It can climb, jump and make a gymnast blush with its full range of movement. The engineers announced their invention by releasing a video of Mini Cheetah in action.
This Mini Cheetah is MIT’s next step after their Cheetah 3, a 90-pound (40 kg) hulking marvel that can sprint, jump, climb stairs and cleanly avoid obstacles. Improving on Cheetah 3’s complicated build, the Mini Cheetah uses twelve electric motors, three in each of the four legs. This allows for a larger range of motion, easy flexibility and increased adaptability to different uneven surfaces.
Weighing only 20 pounds (9 kgs), the Mini Cheetah is nimble and light on its feet, quickly responding to nudges and easily whirling about. The robot has a robust design and is built with off-the-shelf parts, with the intention of not breaking down easily; if it does, its repair is set to be relatively inexpensive. Their next milestone is to develop a landing control for the robot, so that the Mini Cheetah can effectively be tossed off a height and land unharmed on its feet.
Moving forward, in a bid to accelerate research, the engineers hope to build similar mini cheetahs, a total of ten, and loan them out to different laboratories. With each cheetah being controlled by a different algorithm, their aim is to eventually have a race and study the most effective approaches.
What’s in a backflip?
While the Mini Cheetah is the only quadruped robot capable of a backflip, a testament to its landing energy and engineering, there are already other quadruped robots, fully functional, and commercially available. These include:
- SpotMini: a small robot, ideal for home or office use, capable of lifting and moving objects, can climb stairs and has mastered navigation
- LS3 (Legged Squad Support Systems): a visual beast, this robot weighs over 500 kgs and was built with the intention of aiding military action, capable of lasting 24 hours
- WildCat: this is among the fastest robots in the world, reaching 32 km/h. It can gallop like a horse and navigate sharp turns
ANYmal: another robot that can navigate rough terrain and perceive environmental oddities, with miscellaneous smaller features for increased functionality
The Mini Cheetah is the first four-legged robot to achieve the back flipping feat, but not the first ever robot to do that. American robotics company Boston Dynamics’ Atlas, a humanoid robot, has been performing spectacular tricks for some time now. It can sprint, do parkour – including jumping atop blocks and leaping over hurdles – and even do the famed backflip.