Robots are everywhere. They are used to manufacture products, to perform delicate surgeries and even to vacuum our homes. Google is even developing robotic cars that can drive themselves! However, one of the biggest challenges in robotics is designing and building robots that can move around independently on rough or uneven terrain. Creatures such as cats, dogs and birds (among many others) are able to move around their environments very easily and efficiently. As a result, scientists and engineers look towards the animal kingdom for inspiration when designing robots.
In 2005, working with the US Department of Defense on a project, a company called Boston Dynamics developed a four-legged, autonomous robot called BigDog (pictured below) that could carry large amounts of weight while traversing rough terrain. In 2012, the same company developed a sprinting robot called the Cheetah (check out a video here). Cheetah could run at speeds up to 47km/hr but still required an external power source (Cheetah needs to be plugged in) and some external support to help keep it upright. Now, one year later, Boston Dynamics has introduced a brand-new, autonomous, four-legged robot called WildCat that has a little more freedom.
WildCat has its own onboard power source and can keep itself upright. It is powered by a 2-stroke, go-cart engine which allows it to run at speeds up to 25.7 km/hr for around 5 minutes. To put that into perspective, the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, ran his world record 100m race at an average speed of approximately 23.5km/hr. While it’s still in the prototype stage, WildCat could be a precursor to robots that could be useful in carrying out search and rescue missions or in transporting supplies over terrain that other vehicles can’t cross. As the technology advances, there’s the possibility that these types of robots could be used to provide help and support for senior citizens or to those with physical challenges.
At Science World we don’t have robotic cats running around (yet!), but you can visit our Search Gallery to learn more about cats and other living creatures. If you are interested in robotics you can also check out the Science World Robotics Club where you can build robots using Lego® Mindstorms® and Vex® Robotics.
The Boston Dynamics YouTube page will show you a video of the WildCat in action.
The company Boston Dynamics builds all sorts of other cool robots. Visit www.bostondynamics.com to see more of them.
Interested in robotics? Check out Science World’s Robotics Club for more information.