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Racing Robots Contend for First Place
Their manufacturers say they're not just toys but have military, law enforcement and search-and-rescue potential
By Robotics Trends Staff - Filed Jul 10, 2014

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Fast robots have numerous potential practical applications. “Outside of just being cool, running robots are of high interest to the military,” says Element 14, the design engineer community for sharing electronic engineering solutions.

“Having a speedy, remote-controlled robot means more precise attacks without putting soldiers in harm’s way. There has even been talk about swapping out human soldiers for humanoid robots with artificial intelligence.”

The one to beat here may be Boston Dynamics, in Waltham just northwest of Boston, an area that might just as well be called Silicon Shore with all the technological discoveries going on there.

Wildcat is the latest creation from Boston Dynamics, an MIT spinoff recently acquired by Google and creator of a wide variety of robots that can be used in military, public safety and law enforcement situations. It’s not only fast, but also intimidating-looking, appearing roughly like a charging big cat or perhaps a raging bull.

But on the other side of the globe, the Pacific Rim is not to be overlooked, especially with the strong stuff going on in South Korea at one of that nation’s best-known robotics centers. That would be Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, or, as it now prefers to be known, simply as KAIST.

The latest from Korea, the Raptor, is almost as fast as anything from Boston Dynamics and in recent days has been widely touted as being faster than Usain Bolt.

Metro UK has this to say about it: “Despite not being the fastest robot in the world – an honor that goes to the four-legged Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah – it is the fastest on two legs, using one motor per limb and an Achilles tendon system for shock absorption, similar to that in humans … the Raptor’s design only allows it to run on a treadmill, but the team at KAIST plans to redesign parts of the robot to allow it to run on other surfaces.”

And then there are small startups that are still trying to get their funding completely into place but have innovative ideas and interesting products. For instance, Robotics Unlimited describes itself as a research-and-development firm from Pensacola, Fla., with at least two Ph.D.’s on staff.

“This robot (Outrunner) has a unique running style, as its body stays in place while spokes with legs rotate on either side of it, giving it the ability to run quickly without compromising balance,” according to element14.

The company got $62,000 in pledges for its Outrunner but didn’t get funded on that particular effort (Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding platform; meet the stated goal or get zip).

Apparently having shaken off that crowdfunding setback, Robotics Unlimited nevertheless is taking a survey and pre-orders via its website with the intent of just-in-time-for-Christmas delivery.





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