Call them robo-cats.
Last week, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Biometric Robotics Lab shared a video of nine robotic "cheetahs" playing soccer with one another. The Mini Cheetahs are shown walking in a straight line across the lawn before they jump around and start playing with a soccer ball. The footage also shows them twisting, turning and doing backflips.
The quadruped robots are the brainchild of MIT Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Sangbae Kim and his graduate students Ben Katz and Jared Di Carlo, according to CNN. Almost a decade ago, Kim challenged Katz and Di Carlo to build a robot that could mimic one of his favorite animals. The three have since built three variations of the original Cheetah robot, along with a smaller version.
The 20-pound Mini Cheetahs are each powered by 12 electrical motors. In order to stay balanced, they make more than 30 decisions per second.
"We designed the machine to be able to absorb impact, jumping and landing and so on," Kim told IEEE Spectrum earlier this year. "We’ve reached 2.5 meters per second, which is already fast for its size, but in theory it can run up to 4 meters per second — that’s reaching the maximum speed of Cheetah 3 [one of the more recent robots the that team has developed]."
Kim added that the robotics team is continuously developing new algorithms to teach the machines new skills. Though the robots won't replace soccer players anytime soon, the professor told CNN that robots like the Mini Cheetah could one day help with "anything that requires a human being to travel a distance and then do a specific physical action," such as deliveries, elder care or emergency response.
The goal, he told the network, is to make the robots "achieve the same level of mobility as animals... as good as a dog following you around."