MIT's robot cheetah taught itself how to run fast and traverse tricky terrain

Shawn Knight

Posts: 14,127   +154
Staff member
What just happened? Scientists at MIT'S Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have trained a robotic cheetah to break the record for the fastest run ever recorded. The secret was to let the robot figure out how to run through trial and error rather than relying on human engineers to program the bot.

As MIT PhD student Gabriel Margolis and IAIFI postdoc Ge Yang explained in a recent interview, the traditional paradigm in robotics is for humans to tell a robot what to do and how to do it. The problem with that approach is that it isn't scalable due to the sheer amount of human hours needed to manually program a robot to operate in many different environments.

"A more practical way to build a robot with many diverse skills is to tell the robot what to do and let it figure out the how."

One way to get around that limitation is with simulation and AI / machine learning. Using modern simulation tools, the team's robot was able to accumulate 100 days' worth of experience on diverse terrains like ice and gravel in just three hours of real time.

The learn-by-experience, or reinforcement, model is on full display in MIT's latest video and the results are incredibly impressive.

The bot hit a top speed of 3.9 meters per second, or roughly 8.7 mph, when sprinting. Even more impressive is its handling of dicey terrain like gravel. With the human-designed controller, the bot struggles to traverse gravel and even trips and falls when trying to move to the sidewalk. The unit with the learned controller handles the situation effortlessly.

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BadThad

Posts: 1,033   +1,186
Another tool for the new SkyNet! It will be able to chase down and kill human stragglers.
 
Are you joking or being serious? I can think of applications faster than I could type it. Most obvious is put some floppy ears on it and some teeth and it's your new guard dog. Here are some more: Bomb retrieval. Bomb planting. Child retrieval from burning building. Pet in tree retrieval. Cave or other dangerous place exploration. Hostage situations... I'm just going to stop there, I think I've shown an adequate number of use cases.

I can't think of a single way you'd use a robot in this manner for positive ends.
 

Tantor

Posts: 314   +577
I can't think of a single way you'd use a robot in this manner for positive ends.

It's really spooky. But I think they'll prove very useful as beasts of burden in rough terrain. Scale this thing up 10x and it might outperform tracked vehicles for things like hauling logs, snow rescue, etc.

There may come a time when humanity eliminates hard-paved roads. These may be the alternative to cars, even bikes if small enough.
 

Tantor

Posts: 314   +577
Notice how the robot doesn't really run. It doesn't have a flexible abdomen so it can't go into full-stride running like a dog or horse. It's more like fast walking.
 

captaincranky

Posts: 18,724   +7,665
There may come a time when humanity eliminates hard-paved roads. These may be the alternative to cars, even bikes if small enough.
Maybe we could revisit these:
pexels-photo-1090408.jpeg
 

merikafyeah

Posts: 334   +318
I was actually expecting it to run like a real cheetah would (or any 4-legged animal for that matter). Maybe next year they'll have that sorted.
 

SixTymes

Posts: 185   +123
Why are so many impressed by this? its 2022, and it took that industry a decade to just advance slightly beyond what boston dynamics did. come on, we are still looking at and relying on servos and motors with rubber feat that wear out fast, tethered to a controller wire. This is stupid waste of time and resources.
 

PurpleYoda

Posts: 174   +145
And in the meantime the Russian grind machine couldn’t care less - he/she/it/they/f* knows what else, they all bleed and die the same way..
 

Lounds

Posts: 1,119   +1,015
That black mirror episode is still one of the scariest where the MIT robot goes around killing everyone like the terminator.