Ground robots are currently deployed by the US military in various explosive-ordinance-disposal missions.
However, if the limitations on ‘bot mobility and manipulation capabilities can be overcome, robots could ultimately assist warfighters across a greater range of missions.
As such, the Pentagon’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program is working to create significant scientific and engineering advances in robot mobility.
Indeed, DARPA’s M3 program pursues four parallel tracks of R&D: Tool design, improvement of production methods and processes, optimization in control of robot mobility and manipulation, and prototype demonstration.
In the video above, the "Cheeta" robot manages to 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.
According to DARPA researchers, the robot’s movements are patterned after those of fast-running animals in nature. Meaning, the robot increases its stride and running speed by flexing and un-flexing its back on each step, similar to the sprinting abilities of a real cheetah.
The current version of the Cheetah ‘bot runs on a laboratory treadmill where it is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump - while using 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.