A YouTube video released by Boston Dynamics is making some waves today. They decided to unleash "Wildcat" for the public to see.
Many are already familiar with the slow and lumbering "BigDog" that has been in development for the last few years. We've seen it take steps to avoid obstacles and wander around with surprisingly lifelike motion. We've even seen it recover from falls and tumbles, slowly lifting itself back up and trudging onward. However, we were always able to relax a little bit, knowing that at least we could outrun this four-legged beast, should the need arise.
When Boston Dynamics showed videos of its "Cheetah" quadruped system that is patterned after the feline that shares its name, we were able to relax a little bit knowing that, even though it could theoretically move faster than any living human being, it was confined to the treadmill due to its system of hydraulic tethers.
Wildcat offers no such respite. As you can see in the video, this bounding 'bot could easily catch all but the fastest of us mere mortals. Information is very sparse right now, since Boston Dynamics hasn't provided its website with any details yet on its latest creation. The only information we have so far is from this video description:
WildCat is a four-legged robot being developed to run fast on all types of terrain. So far WildCat has run at about 16 mph on flat terrain using bounding and galloping gaits. The video shows WildCat's best performance so far. WildCat is being developed by Boston Dynamics with funding from DARPA's M3 program. For more information about WildCat visit our website at www.BostonDynamics.com.
Click this image to see a selection of still shots from the video.
Judging by their past experiences with BigDog and the massive improvements it has made over time, I would expect some uneven terrain demos at some point. However, just like everything else that runs on legs, it will obviously be slower in unpredictable circumstances.
I could be wrong here, but I think the goal is to have something that can transisiton from sprinting on even terrain to navigating things where wheels don't work well, Imagine this and bigdog combined.
Interesting they are using the gasolin engine for a powerplant (hydrolics?) - usually proof of concept doesn't need to deal with a "practical" power source. This thing could probably have a large range using gasoline. It was nice to see the gallop and trot - any dressage ;) We have seen others climb stairs and clear obsticles although who really knows what it's capabilities/limitations 16mph is pretty quick on legs. That is quite a large mass to move, balance and even turn - very, very impressive - and it seems to have all the logic on board - it would be nice to know how autonimous it is. It also looks like they could easily tuck the legs, or have it in a cart for transportation. Very impressive demonstration.
This is great progress. Sure it is running on a flat surface, but you have to crawl before you can walk (or run rather). Military uses aside, this is really a technology foundation for animal and/or human like assistance robots - think of the movie "iRobot". We may even see robotic pets like dogs, cats, perhaps even horses. Maybe someday replace the bulls and horses at rodeos removing the life threatening aspect? Could replace the fox in the English "fox hunt"? Could be used as horse riding training vehicles - much safer for children to learn that way? No more greyhound racing using real dogs - contestants compete instead with their latest greyhound robotic dog? I wonder why they used a combustion engine (I'm guessing some modified motorcycle), instead of an modified electric motorcycle. Maybe that's what they will do next?