While plug-in cars remain a small niche, electric power is displacing internal combustion in a completely different type of "vehicle."

Meet MIT's battery-powered robotic cheetah.

The school's Biometrics Lab built it to study and replicate the movements of animals. Normally, these types of robots are powered by gasoline engines, but this one uses electricity.

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It was previously thought that internal combustion was the only way to get the power density needed to keep a robot moving, but MIT researchers developed an electric motor that's just as affective.

In tests on an indoor track, the cheetah achieved speeds of 10 mph, although its designers told MIT News (via The Verge) it can reach a top speed of 30 mph.

MIT cheetah robot

MIT cheetah robot

The cheetah can also operate untethered, as demonstrated in the above video. The sight of it trotting around MIT's campus is probably one of the stranger things you'll experience today.

The electric motor also has one significant advantage over gasoline.

Like an electric car, the electric cheetah is very quiet. That's a relevant quality for a machine that's supposed to replicate the behavior of animal, which obviously don't make much noise while walking around.

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Researchers also recently added a "bounding" algorithm, which allows the cheetah to leap over obstacles and keep moving, just like a real predatory cat. This is done by applying a precise amount of extra force to a leg for a short period of time.

Insights gleaned from this project could have real-world applications, including prosthetic limbs or some type of new, quadrupedal form of transportation, researchers say.

However, don't expect your new Jaguar to resemble an actual jaguar anytime soon.

[hat tip: John C. Briggs]


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