One of the longstanding goals in robotics is the mastery of motion, such that balance, precision, and control provide the same kind of all-terrain navigation seen in biological quadruped counterparts. Another goal? Make robots fast...like so freaky fast that NASCAR fans are left with mouths gaping.
Fortunately, researchers seem happy to provide robot enthusiasts with blazingly fast bots. In a recent video with the unfortunately underwhelming title of "Efficiency and Effectiveness Analysis of a New Direct Drive Miniature Quadruped Robot," researchers from the University of Maryland and John Hopkins have constructed a miniature robot with independent drive motors propelling its four whegs, which are hybrid-wheel-legs that offer the best of both.
The bot can travel up to 30 body lengths a second (2.2 m/s or around 5 MPH). As IEEE Spectrum points out, a human traveling the equivalent relative distance in the same time would be going approximately 120 MPH.
The research was recently presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Germany.
As the video shows, the bots just aren't fast, but able to climb up objects and have a zero turning radius. Future modifications to the design are predicted to make the little bots travel even faster. There are also plans to replace the multispoked whegs with single spokes, thereby more closely resembling a true quadruped.
Though cuteness doesn't appear to have been one of the project goals for the team, it's hard not to want to make up cutesy names for this little guy motoring around.
Co-author Christopher Brown stated in the IEEE Spectrum comments to "Keep following our research and you're bound to see a real quadruped doing many different gaits (walk/trot/canter/gallop/jump) in the future!"
With other robotics groups actively pushing the speed envelope for their own creations, it's clear that the race for highly mobile, speedy bots is just getting started.