MIT's 'blind' Cheetah 3 robot can jump up on your desk

The creepy-cute four-legged robot can navigate obstacles and stairs, too.

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

Boston Dynamics isn't the only potential source of a future robot uprising. MIT's Cheetah 3 robot is a four-legged marvel that's developing some startlingly cool new navigation skills. And your desk is no longer safe.

MIT shared a video on Thursday showing Cheetah 3 flexing its legs and doing treadmill exercises, including a jump called a "pronk." That sounds adorable until you get to the part where the robot runs loose outdoors, successfully climbs up obstacle-laden stairs and fights back against its captors (I mean "researchers").

The MIT team pulls on Cheetah 3 and pushes it around with a block of wood to study how it responds to adverse conditions. For the finale, it leaps from ground level onto the top of a desk. It does all of this by relying on "feel" instead of cameras.

Cheetah 3 will be using cameras to keep an eye on its surroundings, but the team first wanted to be sure it could move well without relying on vision.  

This video is a great demonstration of Cheetah 3's hardware improvements and "blind locomotion" ability, which uses a set of new algorithms to detect contact, adjust its movements accordingly and determine how much force to use for each step. This also helps the robot adjust to unexpected forces, like a kick or a shove.

"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," says Cheetah 3 designer Sangbae Kim. "So we want the robot to rely more on tactile information. That way, it can handle unexpected obstacles while moving fast."

Kim sees Cheetah 3 as useful for "dangerous, dirty, and difficult work," including power planet inspections.

We've followed the robot's evolution over the years, from the time it first went off-leash to when it learned to jump over obstacles. Of course, we're all just dying to see MIT's big-cat bot meet up with Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robot dog so we can get the robot-animal party started.

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