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  (Source: DARPA)
Robot will see testing "in the field" next year

For those who fear that one day our robotic contraptions may turn on us, this is very bad news.

The U.S. Military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has paired with Boston Dynamics to create the "cheetah bot", a headless robot that could one day stalk enemies on the battlefield.

The robot has been steadily progressing through treadmill testing.  It recently surpassed the world's fastest human -- six-time Olympic gold-medalist Usain Bolt.  Mr. Bolt had set a high mark for humans at 27.78 miles per hour for his fastest 20 meter split.  But the cheetah bot easily blew by that at 28.3 mph.

In other words, running from this killing machine when it one day hits the battlefield may not be an option.

Fortunately, the tech is a long way from being battle-ready.  While field tests on natural terrain are planned for next year, researchers are still working to perfect the robot's balancing algorithms and come up with an alternative to the current power source -- an off-board hydraulic pump.

Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager, is bullish these obstacles can be overcome, stating, "Cheetahs happen to be beautiful examples of how natural engineering has created speed and agility across rough terrain. Our Cheetah bot borrows ideas from nature’s design to inform stride patterns, flexing and unflexing of parts like the back, placement of limbs and stability. What we gain through Cheetah and related research efforts are technological building blocks that create possibilities for a whole range of robots suited to future Department of Defense missions."

A DARPA press release suggests the cheetah robot could one day be used for "emergency response, humanitarian assistance, and other defense missions".  It's up to our imaginations what those "other defense missions" might include, but it's likely they're not exactly pacifistic.

The good news?  The robotic war-dog is still much slower than a real life cheetah, which can run at up to 61 mph.

A minor aside -- the robot bears an eerie similarity to the robotic "greyhounds" in Absolut Vodka's commercial, which features beats from the Swedish House Mafia.  

Perhaps the advertisers were inspired by the DARPA program?

Sources: DARPA, YouTube

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Same problem as every other robot?
By Connoisseur on 9/17/2012 10:49:25 AM , Rating: 3
How can they begin field testing? This thing is mounted to external hydraulics. It's got exactly the same problems as any other human/animal-like robot developed:
1)No adequate miniature/portable power source.
2)No adequate servos and/or hydraulics that are portable yet strong and fast enough to operate the limbs.

How could they possibly "field test" this thing as a usable product? It turns out mimicking nature with robots is a royal PITA.

RE: Same problem as every other robot?
By kattanna on 9/17/2012 12:03:36 PM , Rating: 2
come up with an alternative to the current power source -- an off-board hydraulic pump.

pretty much.. when i saw that part i was like.. meh

it is a neat test bed model, but nothing more.

RE: Same problem as every other robot?
By Shig on 9/17/2012 12:41:09 PM , Rating: 3
There's a video of them field testing it outside without hydraulics attached in this article. (video towards bottom)

RE: Same problem as every other robot?
By Misty Dingos on 9/17/2012 12:56:04 PM , Rating: 2
This is a possible replacement for the hydraulics.

Power is a real issue for any new machine. I don't have an easy answer for it. I can tell you though if we don't try to find an answer then the middle of the 21st century will look a lot like the end of the 20th century just with about 8 billion more people in the show. If we don't support people with vision we will simply muddle through years until you end up dead and the recycle your corpse for fertilizer.

They want to get this thing into the real world so that they can break it and make it better. This is the same process they took with the Big Dog robot and where is it now? That's right it is entering field testing with the USMC. A modern pack mule for 21st century battlefields. Or any disaster zone.

RE: Same problem as every other robot?
By 91TTZ on 9/17/2012 2:39:23 PM , Rating: 3
This is the same process they took with the Big Dog robot and where is it now? That's right it is entering field testing with the USMC. A modern pack mule for 21st century battlefields. Or any disaster zone.

Can you give me an example of something the Big Dog can do better than a real pack mule? I'm willing to bet that the real pack mule costs less, can run faster, is more durable, and can outperform the robot version.

By MadMan007 on 9/17/2012 3:07:01 PM , Rating: 3
A pack mule doesn't result in big fat defense contracts.

By superPC on 9/17/2012 5:25:10 PM , Rating: 2
voice command (a mule might respond to other type of command but not as efficient), tracking capabilities (how a mule use this capability is outside of our ability to control them), repairable (a mule can die), can become a gun platform (unless you put a man on a mule, it's not likely we'll ever mount a gun on mules). Should i go on? there's a reason assembly lines now uses robots and people...

By Jaybus on 9/17/2012 2:32:50 PM , Rating: 3
The hydraulics could be accomplished, even at the cost of adding more mass, if there was an adequate power source available. The lack of a portable power source is the more fundamental problem. Of course, it can run a bit on battery power, but like electric vehicles, not very far or very long.

RE: Same problem as every other robot?
By Arsynic on 9/17/2012 3:33:23 PM , Rating: 2
How could they possibly "field test" this thing as a usable product? It turns out mimicking nature with robots is a royal PITA.

Well, in that case, they could simply leave a pile of parts in a basket and perhaps it will involve into something over a few million years...

By rbuszka on 9/17/2012 10:45:37 PM , Rating: 2
Your lack of understanding of evolutionary processes are a pathetic insult to mankind's advanced scientific understanding.

You entirely forgot, they'd have to shake the basket.


Reinventing the wheel?
By Jeffk464 on 9/17/2012 11:33:52 AM , Rating: 3
Whatever happened to wheels or tracks, don't see the big advantage for this type of thing. Personally I would rather pay less tax and reduce the government's focus on making war with everybody.

RE: Reinventing the wheel?
By Misty Dingos on 9/17/2012 12:31:56 PM , Rating: 4
Tracks and wheels have real limitations. When these types of robots become more than test beds and prototypes you will see them jump over walls, run up stairs, climb trees.

The intent of these concept machines is to place the robot with the EMT/war fighter/police/fire fighter. It goes where he goes. It goes as fast as he does or faster. And it hauls its own weight.

Try to remember that you didn't want to do this kind of research if a robot derived from this technology pulls you out of a burning building someday, then thank god that someone with greater vision than you thought otherwise.

And it isn't all about making war with everybody. Which I will point out to you is an asinine statement. I can't think of a single government on the planet that wants to do that. If you want to talk about the current wars the USofA is involved in. Well that is a mess that might lead to a larger regional conflict but it is hardly EVERYBODY. Let's try to keep the hand wringing down if we can.

RE: Reinventing the wheel?
By Jeffk464 on 9/17/2012 12:46:15 PM , Rating: 4
Our current wars are wars of choice. The correct way to fight terrorists is what we are doing in Yemen. You use CIA, special ops, and drone strikes. You don't invade and control a country where 95% of the population isn't involved.

RE: Reinventing the wheel?
By Reclaimer77 on 9/17/2012 1:26:39 PM , Rating: 2
Bypassing your idiotic view on the current conflict, wouldn't this technology have potential to aide in those "special ops" you mentioned?

I just don't agree that this research is completely useless and couldn't lead to anything. You're totally closed minded to it just because the "military" is vaguely involved.

RE: Reinventing the wheel?
By TSS on 9/17/2012 5:56:39 PM , Rating: 1
Oh sure leave it to the CIA. They've done such good work in the past. I'm sure those drone strikes aren't creating any hatred what so ever, and only confirmed bad guys die.

The way to fight terrorists is to leave people alone so they never develop such a vivid hatred against your country that they'll resort to terrorism. Granted that ship has somewhat sailed after 60 years of CIA goodness, but i figure alot of money will make up for alot of troubles. Why not, the fed is handing out free unlimited money anyway.

Or, you can as you say indeed choose to fight wars. Just don't be suprised if at some point you get dragged into a war you don't want to fight. Karma is a bitch.

RE: Reinventing the wheel?
By rbuszka on 9/17/2012 10:49:55 PM , Rating: 2
Tracks and wheels can climb stairs and walls far more effectively than this device ever could. All it does is march in place until the ground starts moving underneath it. Tracks, on the other hand, have proven themselves in high-speed applications, as long as they are lightweight and mounted to suspensions that have enough travel and ability to keep the track under tension.

Search YouTube for the "Ripsaw".

Changes nothing
By lightfoot on 9/17/2012 11:46:32 AM , Rating: 4
In other words, running from this killing machine when it one day hits the battlefield may not be an option.

This changes nothing. Running from most modern killing machines isn't really an option.

You can't run from a predator drone, AH-64 Apache, F-16 or even a slow ass (in relative terms) M1-A1 Abrams main battle tank.

A dude with an M-16 doesn't even need to outrun you.

Running from killing machines has not been an option for a VERY long time.

RE: Changes nothing
By tayb on 9/17/2012 12:39:58 PM , Rating: 2
I don't really think it's designed or intended to be a kill machine. There are much more effective ways to do that. When reading about this I think more along the lines or search and rescue or manhunt. Who knows this, this is early test bed stage.

RE: Changes nothing
By Reclaimer77 on 9/17/2012 1:39:32 PM , Rating: 2
Actually I kinda of don't agree with you. In the context of guerrilla warfare, low-tech insurgent solutions have send hundreds of M1-A1's back to the States heavily damaged. To be repaired or scrapped.

It doesn't take a tactical genius to hide in a alley or stairway, wait for a tank to pass, then pop out and RPG it. With one of THESE things roaming around waiting to pounce on your ass, yeah, suddenly it's not so easy.

Also searching and clearing buildings, going room to room in urban environments, have proved to be very dangerous and lethal for our troops. If one of these were ever perfected and put into action, again, the game would be changed in our favor.

I'm not sure the author literally meant to imply winning footraces against military technology. But I could be wrong.

p.s Disappointed media of the 1995 film Screamers and it's "Autonomous Mobile Swords" weren't used for the article :P

RE: Changes nothing
By lightfoot on 9/17/2012 2:19:50 PM , Rating: 2
It doesn't take a tactical genius to hide in a alley or stairway, wait for a tank to pass, then pop out and RPG it. With one of THESE things roaming around waiting to pounce on your ass, yeah, suddenly it's not so easy.

You're absolutely right. But then you're talking about hiding and not running. Stealth and size become much more important factors in these conditions, not speed.

This technology could replace the use of K9 units in combat and police forces, but in those cases mobility (getting into difficult areas) and remote sensing are far more important than raw speed.

This technology is fantastic, but emphasizing the speed of the technology seems to be missing the point of its advantages.

RE: Changes nothing
By Azethoth on 9/17/2012 4:57:36 PM , Rating: 2
Yes but once they add the head that homes in and bites your crotch off you're gonna run. Everyone runs before the end...

I question the usefulness of some of these projects.
By 91TTZ on 9/17/2012 2:36:19 PM , Rating: 2
I remember reading up on that BigDog project with the creepy dog/horse like robot. They wanted it to be a "pack animal" that could walk alongside troops and carry their supplies. One of the drawbacks is that in order to make enough energy to propel it, it needs a loud 2-stroke gasoline engine.

Then I thought about how it would compare to an actual pack animal like a real horse.

Development costs:
Horse: Evolution (free)
BigDog: $32 million so far

Cost per unit:
BigDog: probably hundreds of thousands
Horse: about $1000

In addition, the horse fuels itself when it needs refueling (eat grass), it's easy to program (train), it heals itself when it gets some wear and tear, and it reproduces for free. Also, if it gets stolen, the enemy gets a horse, they don't gain access to millions of dollars of R&D work.

By Iketh on 9/17/2012 6:28:53 PM , Rating: 2
I hear you, but you have to include the advantages of the robot also.

-No emotional attachment
-No need to worry about how it's feeling (ie. overworked)
-Can work in grassless/waterless environments

These are just a few examples.

By Jeffk464 on 9/18/2012 12:48:16 AM , Rating: 2
Ironically I think I read that the US has ditched all the high tech stuff and moved to using donkey's in the mountains of Afghanistan. Why, because it works.

By tayb on 9/17/2012 12:08:52 PM , Rating: 3
This looks neat and seems like something that could be useful at some point down the line but what is going to power it? Even if this thing could theoretically chase down a cheetah and turn on a dime it will never see the light of day without some huge advances (several orders of magnitude) in battery technology. I guess this further begs the question as to why more money isn't going into battery research? I rarely read about battery breakthroughs.

Bigger question:
By dgingerich on 9/17/2012 11:19:15 AM , Rating: 2
How well does it corner? Fast is fine, but cornering is more vital in the real world scenarios. if I could duck around a corner and cause this thing to crash into a wall a few times, it wouldn't last very long as a mechanical killing machine. I could play with it using a single pole and run it out of energy. Multiples could be even more fun to play with. :)

By Motoman on 9/17/2012 12:01:27 PM , Rating: 2
Reminds me of the little terror drone-bot things in RA2. Don't remember for sure what they were called...but that's what this brought to mind.

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