MIT's Cheetah 3 Is Blind But Could Still Cross an Apocalyptic Hellscape
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology could one day create a pack of blind robotic cheetahs capable of searching for survivors amongst the wreckage left behind by an earthquake or tornado.
The sightless Cheetah 3 is 90 pounds of sheer resilience being able to traverse jagged terrain, even when it’s being pushed around or pulled back. Instead of relying on cameras or sensors, it uses what MIT roboticists call “blind locomotion” to climb stairs, jump vertically, and gallop at speeds up to 6.7 miles per hour.
“If humans close our eyes and make a step, we have a mental model for where the ground might be, and can prepare for it. But we also rely on the feel of touch of the ground,” the robot’s designer Sangbae Kim said in a statement. “[Cheetah 3 is] sort of doing the same thing by combining multiple [sources of] information to determine the transition time.”
But that doesn’t mean Cheetah 3 will be blind forever. Kim, who is also an MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering, doesn’t want his creation to rely too much on its vision. Instead, he explained that initially training his creation without eyes will ensure it becomes an expert at dealing with rough topography and recovering from stumbling.
“We want a very good controller without vision first,” he said in a press release. “And when we do add vision, even if it might give you the wrong information, the leg should be able to handle (obstacles). Because what if it steps on something that a camera can’t see? What will it do? That’s where blind locomotion can help. We don’t want to trust our vision too much.”
The plan is to send Cheetah 3 to places that are outright dangerous for humans to explore. At the moment it is only carrying out safe tasks, like power plant inspection. But if it keeps improving its hiking skills it might have what it takes to help first-responders during natural disasters.
Better watch out Boston Dynamics, there’s another robotic feline in these streets.