The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Boston Dynamics has created a robot cheetah that runs at a mind-blowing speed of 28.3 mph. That’s faster than the Olympic runner Usain Bolt’s time of 27.7 mph. Granted, the video of the cheetah running was on a treadmill indoors, and it probably cannot compare with Usain Bolt in his natural environment. But it seems like only a matter of time before the cheetah will be able to bolt past Usain.
The speed at which the Agency is making adjustments and improving the cheetah is impressive, as only five months ago, the cheetah had a record speed of 18mph. The M3 (Maximum Mobility and Manipulation) program at DARPA has been specifically working on designing robots which (as the program is titled) greatly enhance the mobility and manipulation of robots.
Robots in this day and era are quite impressive, yet when we think of robots, we think of sci-fi movies where the robot is a time travelling terminator or a complex droidcapable of behaving like humans and desiring to become one. Technology today is far from creating robots of that stature (don’t even get me started on time travel), but a big step towards that goal is what the M3 program is about. Currently, fabricating the cheetah technology is very time consuming and not easy on the wallet, but the goal of the M3 is to make robots more agile, mobile, and easier to manipulate at a much cheaper price and much faster.
So it’s easy for some who are watching this video of this slightly creepy looking cheetah to wonder, “What possible uses could there be for technology like this?” DARPA is specifically trying to create this technology for military use, but I thought there could be uses outside the military as well, including:
1) Prosthetics: This type of technology could be a huge deal when it comes down to dealing with amputees. The precision and mobility of the technology can help create whole new limbs such as hands and feet which have the ability to move much like a regular limb. The scene where Luke Skywalker gets an artificial hand at the end of Empire strikes back comes to mind.
2) Mars Travel: We all know about the curiosity rover that just landed on Mars and how big of a deal that is. Imagine a fully functioning cheetah robot that can travel on Mars. The rover is great, but it cannot make the leaps that a robot made for off road terrain can. The speed at which it can move around and the data which it can collect will not only make the whole project simpler, but might also be necessary for gathering the proper data.
3) Search and Rescue Operations: Robots could be designed in such a way that they could explore areas of great size and distance for searching out missing people. It’s probably not as simple as strapping a heat sensor to a robot and letting it run loose, but at the pace technology is advancing, it seems like it would be more than possible.
4) New methods of transport: The DARPA program manager Gill Pratt had said that the design for the cheetah was taken from nature in terms of stride patterns, flexing, and un-flexing parts of its back and also the placement of the limbs. Nature has had millions of years to develop creatures and refine these creatures to optimally fitting their environments. Taking ideas from other species might help us develop methods of transportation which can lower fuel dependency.
5) Underwater Research: There are many mysteries that lie right beneath our noses, and one of those mysteries is the ocean. Developing robots that are similar to aquatic animals in design could help researchers observe regions of the ocean which are unexplored.
6) Household Appliances: Most household appliances are made for the healthy and the non-disabled, however, the elderly and the disabled usually struggle with most daily chores. Creating robots which can follow you around, carry your groceries, or drive you around can be a huge benefit to the elderly and the disabled. If you don’t want separate robots for different purposes, then a robotic manservant could be the perfect creation. I know I’ve always wanted one ever since I saw Bicentennial Man in theaters.
7) Robotic Suits: The precision involved in the new technology can help create specific suits to aid people in terms of strength and reduce the risk in many areas of service. Construction workers could use these suits to avoid unnecessary body strains and lifting objects that would be much too heavy for them to lift by themselves.
8) Security: Robots could be made to emulate humans or animals for security purposes, such as creating a human look alike which can act as a security guard.
The possibilities of this technology are only limited by the creativity of the designer. Boston Dynamics has already released a video of the Alpha Dog which is specifically meant for off road terrain.
They plan to go much faster than the cheetah now at an intense speed of 50mph. This kind of new technology makes me excited to see what the future has lined up for us.