MIT Mini Cheetah robot will backflip into your heart

The robot apocalypse just got more adorable.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

MIT's scrappy little Mini Cheetah robot is a cutie-pie of a robotic quadruped. It's also an accomplished gymnast. MIT says the plucky machine is the first four-legged robot to do a backflip.  

The school posted a video on Feb. 28 of Mini Cheetah in action. The highlight reel shows off the robot's ability to flip, run, scoot sideways, hop and play in a pile of dry leaves like a shiny little headless puppy.

Mini Cheetah rocks a modular design with low-cost electric motors built from off-the-shelf parts. "A big part of why we built this robot is that it makes it so easy to experiment and just try crazy things, because the robot is super robust and doesn't break easily, and if it does break, it's easy and not very expensive to fix," says lead developer Benjamin Katz.

Watch this: Watch this robot cheetah do a backflip

Mini Cheetah is the creation of MIT's Biomimetic Robotics Laboratory, which is also developing the much larger Cheetah 3. The big sibling bot can jump up on your desk. Personally, I'd invite Mini Cheetah to jump up on my lap for some snuggles. 

The robot weighs just 20 pounds (9 kilograms) but can still recover when someone kicks it around. Even when knocked entirely onto its back, it can roll itself upright. There's an endearing blooper reel at the end of the video showing some Mini Cheetah fails, but the little robot still endures.

Mini Cheetah's design is reminiscent of Boston Dynamics' famous SpotMini doglike robot. We have yet to see SpotMini try for a backflip, but Boston Dynamics' two-legged Atlas robot pulled off the feat in 2017.

The MIT team is building 10 more Mini Cheetah robots, which they intend to loan out to collaborators to advance the robot's design and development.

While Mini Cheetah is plenty charming thanks to its small size and acrobatic abilities, it can still trot about twice as fast as an average person's walking speed. Keep that in mind if you ever need to outrun it.

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Originally published Feb. 28.
Update, March 4: Added more information from MIT.