MIT's Mini Cheetah Backflipping Robots Pop Out of Leaves and Play Soccer

MIT's Biomimetic Robotics Laboratory showed off its adorable robots.
Loukia Papadopoulos

It's autumn in the U.S., the perfect time to take your dog out to play. That's exactly what some MIT researchers did, only the dogs were robots.


Mini cheetahs

MIT's Biomimetic Robotics Laboratory has built what it calls mini cheetahs. These dog-like robots can run, do backflips, play soccer, and even hide under piles of leaves.

They are 9-kilogram (20-pound) four-legged robots that are powered by 12 motors and are steered by researchers using an RC-like controller. They can reach speeds of around 2.5 meters per second (6 mph) and they are adorable.

However, they weren't inspired by dogs but rather by cheetahs. "My hobby was watching cheetah videos on YouTube," MIT Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Sangbae Kim told CNN.

The mini cheetahs are quite a work of engineering. "People don't realize how difficult it is to stay balanced," Kim explained.

To stay upright, the mini cheetah has to make more than 30 decisions per second. And although it might seem like backflipping would be the hardest thing for this robot to do, Kim emphasized that it was the landing that was the true struggle.

Adding new skills

Playing soccer, frolicking and backflipping is just the beginning for these small robots. The robotics team is constantly developing new algorithms that will see the mini cheetahs equipped with new skills. 

To upgrade their robots, they plan to send them to other universities to see what they can do with them. They're also considering adding cameras so the robots could self-navigate.

Although someday the robots could be used for such tasks as elder care or emergency response, Kim said his current goal is to "achieve the same level of mobility as animals... as good as a dog following you around."


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