If you’re not impressed enough by watching Boston Dynamics’ adorable SpotMini climbing stairs, MIT might have something for you. The company just revealed that its Cheetah 3 robot can now climb a staircase full of debris, leap across rough terrain and recover its balance quickly when pulled or shoved. And the impressive part is, all can be done while the robot is essentially blind.
The 90-pound mechanical creature is deliberately designed to navigate its way through the world without depending on cameras or any external environmental sensors. Instead, it feels its way through surroundings, just like the human being making their way to the washroom in the middle of the night.
Why make it blind? The reason is simple. The team behind the Cheetah 3 wants it to operate without seeing anything, as so much relying on vision could make it slow.
“Vision can be noisy, slightly inaccurate, and sometimes not available, and if you rely too much on vision, your robot has to be very accurate in position and eventually will be slow. So we want the robot to rely more on tactile information. That way, it can handle unexpected obstacles while moving fast,” says Sangbae Kim, associate professor of the mechanical engineering department of MIT and the robot’s designer.
The plan is to make the robot do things that are too dangerous for the human, such as venturing deep inside a power plant for inspections. The research team used algorithms and sensors to help the robot sense where its body is in space. With the power of new predictive algorithm, Cheetah 3 can change up its gait to avoid tripping or falling over.