The use of ground robots in military explosive-ordinance-disposal missions already saves many lives and prevents thousands of other casualties. If the current limitations on mobility and manipulation capabilities of robots can be overcome, robots could much more effectively assist war fighters across a greater range of missions.
DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program seeks to create and demonstrate significant scientific and engineering advances in robot mobility and manipulation capabilities.
The M3 program pursues four parallel tracks of research and development: tool design, improvement of production methods and processes, improvement in control of robot mobility and manipulation, and prototype demonstration.
The “Cheetah” robot can gallop at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour (mph), setting a new land speed record for legged robots. The previous record was 13.1 mph, set in 1989.
The robot’s movements are patterned after those of fast-running animals in nature. The robot increases its stride and running speed by flexing and un-flexing its back on each step, much as an actual cheetah does.
The current version of the Cheetah robot runs on a laboratory treadmill where it is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump, and uses a boom-like device to keep it running in the center of the treadmill. Testing of a free-running prototype is planned for later this year.
While the M3 program conducts basic research and is not focused on specific military missions, the technology it aims to develop could have a wide range of potential military applications.
The DARPA M3 performer for Cheetah is Boston Dynamics of Waltham, Mass.