Video Boston Dynamics has been showing off its latest creation, a petrol-powered robot called WildCat that can outpace a human using running styles copied from the animal world.
"WildCat is a four-legged robot being developed to run fast on all types of terrain," says the company when describing the video, above. "So far WildCat has run at about 16 mph on flat terrain using bounding and galloping gaits."
WildCat isn't as fast as Boston Dynamics' earlier creation, Cheetah, which can run at 28 mph but has to be tethered by a thick power cord to operate. From the sound of it, WildCat uses a petrol engine which gives it much more freedom of movement, as does its cousin from the same company BigDog, which is designed as a robot pack animal.
Boston Dynamics isn't releasing any more information on WildCat as yet, so we don't know what its range is or if it is capable of navigating obstacles by itself or requires a human controller and (presumably) line of sight with the operator. Its engine also makes it rather loud, so there'll be no stealthy spying going on from the device.
The robot was built with DARPA funding from its Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program, which looks to improve the design of robots for military use. The military already uses robots for reconnaissance and bomb disposal, and the devices are gaining acceptance in the armed forces.
Last month a study by the University of Washington found that soldiers were so attached to their robotic helpmates that they actually held funeral services for them if they were damaged or destroyed.
"They would say they were angry when a robot became disabled because it is an important tool, but then they would add 'poor little guy,' or they'd say they had a funeral for it," said the study's author Julie Carpenter.
"These robots are critical tools they maintain, rely on, and use daily. They are also tools that happen to move around and act as a stand-in for a team member, keeping Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel at a safer distance from harm."
As anyone who has encountered crazy cat people or spent any time on LOLCats will know, felines inspire strong feelings in us Homo Sapiens. Maybe in the future WildCat and its progeny will inspire similar loyalty. ®