Velociraptor Robot Can Run Down a Human (Luckily, It Lacks Claws)


Many robotic researchers mimic living animals in their creations, such as cats, dogs, birdskangaroos, humans. Fine and good. The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) would rather reverse engineer dinosaurs.

KAIST’s Raptor robot was inspired by the velociraptor, an extinct six-foot killing machine known for its role as wily pack hunter in Jurassic Park. The robo-Raptor isn’t hunting anyone (yet)—but it’s fast. Very fast.

In a recently released video, KAIST shows Raptor running the treadmill at a leg-blurring top speed of 46 kph (28.5 mph). That’s faster than the fastest human sprinter (Usain Bolt), and matches Boston Dynamics’ fleet-footed robot Cheetah. (Raptor has momentarily achieved even higher speeds of 48 kph, or 29.8 mph.)

Raptor was developed by KAIST PhD student Jongwon Park and collaborators Jinyi Lee, Jinwoo Lee, Kyung-Soo Kim, and Professor Soohyun Kim.

At first glance, the robot doesn’t look much like a velociraptor. But its design borrows three components from its namesake. First, it runs on two legs. Second, it finds power and efficiency in a spring-like achilles tendon. Third, it uses a counterweight to improve balance (velociraptors’ tails served a similar purpose).

Raptor combines these traits for efficiency, speed, and stability. The bot is not only fast but also able to deal with obstacles, nimbly leaping over various blocks in the video. Perhaps because four legs are more likely to get tangled than two, neither Cheetah nor Wildcat were shown similarly overcoming obstacles at a sprint.

Raptor is also a light, efficient robot. It weighs 3 kg and requires one electric motor per leg. Cheetah, on the other hand, is heavier and more energy-intensive, using hydraulic actuators to move. Cheetah’s successor, Wildcat, runs on a combustion engine.

Although Raptor is fast—it’s fast with a caveat.

Like Cheetah, the bot is tethered for power and attached to a support boom. This is standard practice early in a robot’s development. It allows researchers to perfect control algorithms by pushing the system to its limit without risking damage. The KAIST engineers say they’re currently aiming to make the bot faster and more stable.

It would be great to see Raptor evolve beyond the treadmill. Last year, Boston Dynamics showed Wildcat galloping around a parking lot, free of cables and support.

A number of other groups are working on legged robots, and like Raptor, some are focused on weight and efficiency. MIT’s Cheetah, for example, isn’t as fast as Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah bot, but using electric actuators, it approaches the efficiency of a real cheetah and can run 5 mph for over an hour on batteries alone.

As robots move from the field and factory into people’s homes, they’ll need to be more like those from MIT and KAIST—efficient, battery-powered, and quiet. Few are likely to invite a legged lawnmower into their living room.

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He did research and wrote about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.