Raptor, a new sprinting robot, is competing for the fastest such device in the world, with comparable speeds to competing designs like the Cheetah and Outrunner.
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) researchers looked to an unusual source of (ancient) inspiration. While most developers use felines as inspiration for quick-moving robots, the KAIST team turned toward velociraptors. The Raptor runs on two legs, and also has a third appendage that functions much like a tail.
Treadmill tests measured the velocity of the Raptor at over 28 miles per hour. This is just one mile and hour slower than the Cheetah robot, designed by Boston Dynamics. The fastest human in the world, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, tops out at just over 27 miles per hour.
Jongwon Park, a doctoral student at KAIST, led development of the new sprinting robot.
Raptor uses its "tail" to stable its body as it runs through the environment. Testing on treadmills involved placing obstacles in the path of the robot. The six-pound device easily overcame the barriers, using its tail to remain stable.
The Cheetah, as the name suggests, has four legs, which are driven by powerful actuators. This robot was designed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and is larger and more complex than the Raptor. This robot was designed by Boston Dynamics, a company which has recently announced a successor model, called the WildCat.
Outrunner is another "sprinting" robot, although its actual mechanism is closer to cartwheels than running. This new design from Robotics Unlimited can travel over 20 miles per hour, along a wide variety of terrains, including hills and grass.
Raptor is unusual in being so simple, using just a single motor on each leg. Achilles tendons in each limb recover energy from one step to be used toward the following one, saving energy. Software is controlled by a readily-available running pattern generator.
Both the Cheetah and Raptor still need to be tethered while in operation, making practical use outdoors nearly impossible.
Legged robots have several advantages over robots with wheels. They can transport themselves over much more rugged terrain than wheeled vehicles. Legs can also absorb shocks much more easily than wheels or tracks, adding stability to the robot. They could prove useful in rescuing victims during emergencies, or exploring other worlds.
"[O]nly about half the earth's landmass is accessible to existing wheeled and tracked vehicles. It should be possible to build legged vehicles that can go to the places that animals [on foot] can now reach," Marc Raibert of the City University of New York wrote.
KAIST researchers created a video demonstrating the abilities of the Raptor, available on YouTube.