The Fastest Robots who Try to Beat Human



The Columbia University’s engineering professor Hod Lipson once said that robots must be set according to the young animals. He implies that, we must try to get the speed of those young animals. Because, they gallop across fields, climb trees and immediately find their feet with grace after they fall. He was actually correct. Since a new breed of speedy robots promises to eventually outdo the runners at 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The already existing examples can be mentioned as: MIT’s dominant Cheetah, Dynamic’s Petman and Handle, Michigan Robotics’ MABEL and the University of Cape Town’s Baleka.

Further, the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) with Florida University powerhouse creates a smart, sensor-free biped plainly called PER. PER is Planar Elliptical Runner. The legs move in an elliptical or oval motion with a single motor at PER’s core for its inherent stability. Therefore, it avoids falling forward or backward. To make those more steady, Torsion springs generated and added more power. The paragon of dynamic geometric is unencumbered by any power-hungry, number-crunching processor that gauges steps in line with sensor data. On the other hand, the slick mover does 12 miles per hour (mph) on a treadmill which is faster than it sounds.

Practical Outcomes with Fastest Robots (PER, Cheetah, Big Hex)

One of the fastest marathons ever runs by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge in Berlin in 2018 was at a speed of 13 mph. And then, IHMC pacesetter HexRunner made a remark by showing 32.2 miles per hour. Actually, it was a record breaker from the previous performance by MIT’s four legged trailblazer, Cheetah. (Performed 28.3 miles per hour). Another one from MIT was a cat which hits 69.5 mph, in just 3 seconds. The length of legs, spine and tail was balanced well to gain that performance. But both of that cat and the wheel based Hex Runner was almost 6 feet tall. And they roll along like tumbleweed by spinning both. So, whenever one of its six feet leaves the ground, another one touches down.

However, both PER and Big HEX are sharp designs. And they mention that they have used a lot of sensors with these more fast robots. At the same time, they said that they have used a lot of computation to figure out the relevant actuators. Then, what they have done was, use the actuators to turn energy into motion with the right pulse of power quickly. Otherwise, the robot will fall down. But, if we do a comparison, the HexRunner operates mechanically and smoothly than others.

Trying to get Young Animal Features

All the above facts prove that most of the robot mechanics tend to get animal shapes and features. For some other examples, Harvard University’s octopus shaped Octobot and the Swiss-built smart salamander Pleurobot which can walk and swim. That means, understanding animals makes building better robots easier. And also, the creators really try getting those speed features of young animals. Because, in the real world applications like: search-and-rescue missions and fast car racing speed is very important.

One of the creators mentioned that “With its ability to top 30 mph, HexRunner is his institute’s fastest cybernetic performer, from one perspective. However, the robot looks more like a wheel than a bird. So, even though it has all the main features of a running robot, not everyone is willing to call it a running robot”

Further, they mentions that “more like a conventional robot, his bipedal planar model PER apparently evokes the most potential.” Because, it’s brisk pace is achieved despite it being just 2 feet tall. And they believe that they can make a leggy, planar Robo-bird that outruns an ostrich. It is fast as the fastest animal on two legs; an ostrich can accelerate like an Audi and perform 45 mph.

Major Limitation

However, the problem highlights that; super-bird would probably run out of batteries in less than an hour. But the robots can be pretty efficient; they’re still far from being as amazingly efficient as animals.

On the other hand, they say that running robots are hindered by available motors’ limited oomph. Air resistance, which stiffens at speed, and the extent to which structure can be strengthened also thwart development.

Cheetah and Bolt

Meanwhile, MIT’s Cheetah has proven capable of reaching 28.3 mph. That means, faster than the land speed record of the running legend Usain Bolt (27.8 mph). Mind you, Cheetah busted the record with the aid of perfect, turbulence-free conditions, running indoors on a treadmill, propelled by a giant remote power supply. Another inbuilt advantage Cheetah has is its PER-like refined, efficient design.

The original 2013 Cheetah press release states that in treadmill tests, the researchers have found that the robot about the size and weight of an actual cheetah—wastes very little energy as it trots continuously for up to an hour and a half at 5 mph. Therefore the key is highlighted as to the robot’s streamlined stride: lightweight electric motors set into its shoulders that produce high torque with very little heat wasted.

Cheetah remains a benchmark for speed. Again, the rub is its resemblance to a mishmash of batteries, gears and motors, noted by analyst Kendall Costello in a September 2014 post for the children’s science hub. Enter Cheetah’s more life-like cousin, which is billed as the world’s fastest quadruped robot.

Future Predictions

Sörman-Nilsson projects a future where robots are weaponized in warfare. Alternatively, they may be deployed in occupational health and safety campaigns in innovative spaces like the factory of the future and digital mining. In such contexts, fast robots will reduce physical harm to humans by supplanting and putting them out of harm’s way. He has mentioned further.  While humans are on a linear development curve, robots follow an exponential development one.

In the future, it seems, a host of robots of all stripes will have sufficient athleticism to lap us. Soon we’ll be the clodhoppers sorely needing more speed.


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