MIT’s Cheetah 3 robot doesn’t need to see to run up a set of stairs, a new video from MIT shows. Even without cameras to dodge obstacles by sight, the 90-pound robot is equipped with new algorithms that help it navigate its environment by touch.
We’ve seen robots climb stairs before, like Boston Dynamics’ adorable SpotMini. But Spot uses cameras. And the team behind the Cheetah 3 want it to operate without seeing the path in front of it; relying too much on vision could slow it down, or make it stumble. “What if it steps on something that a camera can’t see? What will it do?” Sangbae Kim, a mechanical engineering professor at MIT who designed the robot, says in a news release. “That’s where blind locomotion can help. We don’t want to trust our vision too much.”
The plan is for the robot to venture where humans can’t — like deep inside power plants for inspections, an MIT news release says. “Dangerous, dirty, and difficult work can be done much more safely through remotely controlled robots,” Kim says. But a robot may not be able to see in these environments; after all, the radiation inside the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant fried the camera on a robot sent in to hunt for blobs of nuclear fuel.
That’s why the team used algorithms and sensors to give the robot proprioception — a sense of where its body is in space. The robot’s upgrades include changes to its hardware that let it stretch and twist. It also has new predictive algorithms that help the Cheetah 3 change up its gait to keep from tripping or falling over.
The robot shows off its new features in the MIT Video — like its ability to run up stairs.
At least, most of the time.
The robot can also wiggle and twist, thanks to updates to its hardware.
The most horrifying features revealed in the video, though, are the robot’s invertable knee joints. They bend the wrong way — letting the robot turn around without actually turning. Ever jammed your knee on a trampoline? This hurts just to watch.
But the video makes up for the trauma of watching the backwards knee-bend with “pronk” mode. Please enjoy — because those folks in the background watching the robot prance around certainly are.
Earlier iterations of Cheetah robots broke the land speed record and cleared hurdles nearly two-feet tall. At the rate the Cheetah robots are progressing, whoever’s wielding that stick might want to rethink pushing these adorably frightening, or frighteningly adorable, robots around.