But these were not students, they were cheetahs. Mini cheetahs, actually. Oh, and they're robots.
MIT's Biomimetic Robotics Labratory, located above the lawn of the school's iconic main building, created these so-called mini-cheetahs, four-legged robots powered by 12 engines.
They can run around unbound from cables, controlled by nearby scientists using an RC-like controller. With the same basic dimensions as a Boston Terrier and movements similar to the dog's energetic, shady gait, the silver robots are strikingly cute.
"My hobby was watching cheetah videos on YouTube," said MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering Sangbae Kim. Inspired by the beauty of the world's fastest animals, Kim challenged two of her doctoral students, Ben Katz and Jared Di Carlo, to create a robot that can move just as gracefully as the spotted African cat.
Ten years later, the team created three versions of a larger cheetah robot in addition to mini cheetahs.
Unlike actual cheetahs, which have a top speed of up to 75 miles per hour, the robot is mini-cheetah & # 39; can only run about 9 miles per hour. But both have what Kim calls "physical intelligence."
"People don't realize how difficult it is to stay balanced," he explained. To stay upright, the mini-cheetah has to make 30 decisions a second, Kim said. That versatility, and the excitement if it falls, is what makes this robot special ̵[ads1]1; and very good on return flights.
Learning a robot to jump in the air while swinging 360 degrees was not the difficult part. Backflipping "is actually no more difficult than running, it's actually easier," Kim said. The real challenge was landing. After all, "if you can't land, you can't jump," he added.
The robotics team constantly creates new algorithms to teach the mini-cheetah new skills. Therefore, they recently built 10 more robots and plan to send them to other university laboratories.
Working with the same hardware, researchers will be able to share information and develop algorithms faster, Kim said. A special skill they are working on: climbing stairs. It is an important advantage that a four-legged robot has over one that moves on wheels or tracks.
Kim said that robots such as the mini cheetah could one day help with deliveries, elderly care, or readiness, "anything that requires a human to travel some distance and then do a specific physical action."
But for now, He and his team are focused on adding skills to the mini-cheetah. They are considering adding cameras so the robots can navigate through space without anyone operating them.
His ultimate goal, he said, is for the cheetah robots to "achieve the same level of mobility as animals … as good as a dog following you around."