MIT engineers have expanded the capabilities of their Cheetah 2. The robot can now autonomously detect obstacles while running, and jump over them. Designed in MIT’s Biomimetics Robotics Lab, the robot uses a 2D laser distance sensor to spot anything in its path and gather data about its size and shape. The robot then rapidly adjusts the length of its steps as it approaches so that it can propel itself safely over the obstacle.
“A running jump is a truly dynamic behavior,” Sangbae Kim, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, said in a statement. “You have to manage balance and energy, and be able to handle impact after landing. Our robot is specifically designed for those highly dynamic behaviors.”
Sometimes, in the course of making a very quick decisions about its trajectory, the robot jumps higher than necessary. “If you want to optimize for, say, energy efficiency, you would want the robot to barely clear the obstacle — but that’s dangerous, and finding a truly optimal solution would take a lot of computing time,” Kim says. “In running, we don’t want to spend a lot of time to find a better solution. We just want one that’s feasible.”
The robot can currently run on hard surfaces at 5 miles per hour, while jumping obstacles of up to 18 inches high. In the future, the researchers hope to make the robot capable of the same feats while on soft terrain.