MIT cheetah robot now jumps over obstacles autonomously

First four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously
June 1, 2015

Massachusetts Institute of Technology| MIT cheetah robot lands the running jump

The MIT researchers who built a robotic cheetah have now trained it to see and jump over hurdles as it runs — making it the first four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously.

The robot estimates an obstacle’s height and distance, gauges the best distance from which to jump, and adjusts its stride to land just short of the obstacle, before exerting enough force to push up and over. Based on the obstacle’s height, the robot then applies a certain amount of force to land safely, before resuming its initial pace.

In experiments on a treadmill and an indoor track, the cheetah robot successfully cleared obstacles up to 18 inches tall — more than half of the robot’s own height — while maintaining an average running speed of 5 miles per hour.

“A running jump is a truly dynamic behavior,” says Sangbae Kim, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “You have to manage balance and energy, and be able to handle impact after landing. Our robot is specifically designed for those highly dynamic behaviors.”

Onboard LIDAR + path-planing algorithm –> autonomous control

As KurzweilAI reported last September, the engineers previously demonstrated that the robotic cheetah was able to run untethered— performed “blind,” without the use of cameras or other vision systems.

Now, the robot can “see,” with the use of onboard LIDAR — a visual system that uses reflections from a laser to map terrain (also used in autonomous vehicles). The team developed a three-part algorithm to plan out the robot’s path, based on LIDAR data. Both the vision and path-planning system are onboard the robot, giving it complete autonomous control.

The team tested the cheetah’s jumping ability first on a treadmill, then on a track. On the treadmill, the robot ran tethered in place, as researchers placed obstacles of varying heights on the belt. After multiple runs, the robot successfully cleared about 70 percent of the hurdles.

In comparison, tests on an indoor track proved much easier, as the robot had more space and time in which to see, approach, and clear obstacles. In these runs, the robot successfully cleared about 90 percent of obstacles.

The team is now working on getting the MIT cheetah to jump over hurdles while running on softer terrain, like a grassy field.

This research was funded in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency .