May 17, 2013 at 6:43 PM ET
An ongoing robotics project at MIT aiming to recreate the gait of a cheetah is sharing a new video showing off the latest progress. There's a long way to go before anyone would call it catlike, but it's impressive nevertheless.
The Biomimetic Robotics Lab at MIT is attempting to create things much like those being made by the more well-known Boston Dynamics, whose creepily realistic robots frequently light up the Internet with worries about machine takeovers.
MIT's effort is a bit more open, however, and its Web page shows a few of the technologies that makes the cheetah robot possible. A highly efficient leg motor, imitation tendons, and a responsive tail are among the improvements the team has made to allow the motion seen in the video above.
Other videos show the cheetah walking or trotting, but this is the first to show it seamlessly transitioning to a gallop, the rhythm and motion of which are totally different from other quadrupedal locomotion types.
Boston Dynamics' cheetah is twice as fast, sure, but MIT's runs on a battery and uses little in the way of shock absorbers and sensors to tell it whether it's putting a foot down too hard.
Both big cats are made possible by funding from DARPA, the research arm of the Pentagon, which seems very interested this type of robot. Wheels aren't always the best solution for machines doing recon or carrying gear, and nothing walks, swims, or gallops quite like the real thing: animals.
Roboticists are keen to learn the secrets of how animals do what they do, and recreate that using motors, gears and sensors. You probably won't be driving to work on a robo-bear any time soon, but research has already shown that the animal kingdom, and its solutions to problems that have evolved over millions of years, have much to teach us.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.