Aug. 19 - 'Cheetah Cub' is a robot being developed by scientists in Switzerland, to one day assist in search and rescue missions. The machine does not yet have a head, but otherwise looks and runs like a cat, to go into places inaccessible or too dangerous for humans. Jim Drury reports.
It may not have a head, but there's no doubt robot Cheetah Cub is a feline. The machine is the fastest four-legged robot of his weight class, according to Peter Eckert, of EPFL's Biorobotics Lab in Lausanne. SOUNDBITE (English) PETER ECKERT, PHD STUDENT WORKING FOR BIOROBOTICS LAB IN EPFL, AND PART OF CHEETAH CUB TEAM, SAYING: "The performance, the speed, is measured by a motion capturing system and force plates. The motion capturing system is mostly operated by a system of multiple high speed infrared cameras that emit infrared light, which gets reflected by these markers, and in this way we can see where the robot is in the room, so we can see, derive, the speed, the angles, the motion itself." Cheetah Cub can run almost seven times his body length in a second ..although Eckert says it's the cheetah's extraordinary agility, rather than its speed, that the team is trying to replicate. The cat can negotiate steps without falling and while it needs guidance from a lead, Eckert says he will one day be fully autonomous. Replicating the power and elasticity of a real cheetah's legs has been a challenge. SOUNDBITE (English) PETER ECKERT, PHD STUDENT WORKING FOR BIOROBOTICS LAB IN EPFL, AND PART OF CHEETAH CUB TEAM, SAYING: "We're reproducing here also the muscle tendon system in the real animal. We see as muscles the actuators located proximally on the trunk and the tendons as the springs in the legs itself." Eckert says future versions of the robot could be deployed for search and rescue missions. He feels robots with legs are better at mastering rough terrain than those with wheels or tracks. He says that with Cheetah Cub, the team has taken a good first step.