Videos: Cheetah v. Dog v. Ostrich at the DARPA Headless Robot Zoo

By Sarah Zhang | March 6, 2012 2:52 pm

The latest in DARPA’s ever-evolving line of headless robots is this cheetah right here. Clocking in at 18 miles per hour, it’s the fastest land robot ever. Watch it go to work on that treadmill!

Cheetah comes from the same collaboration, Boston Dynamics and DARPA, that brought you BigDog and AlphaDog. They aren’t as fast, but what they lack in speed, they make up for in resilience. If you need someone—erh, some robot—to carry heavy loads across rough terrains, these robot “dogs” are the way to go.

Watch BigDog tramp through snow, get kicked, and otherwise abused—just to get up and keep going.


If speed is still what you’re after though, it’s time to leave the robot mammalian kingdom and look toward FastRunner the robot ostrich. Modeled after the fastest two-legged creature, FastRunner will run at 22 mph, faster than the cheetah. Confusingly, flesh and blood cheetahs still run faster than ostriches, which is why we have this video of cheetahs hunting down an ostrich in Africa. Robot rematch?

FastRunner simulation:

FastRunner prototype:

MORE ABOUT: DARPA, robots, watch this
  • Matt

    So, I’ll be the first to admit that those are some pretty fantastic technological achievements. The realistic way that Big Dog responds to different environments, and even being knocked off-balance, is amazing. But, seriously, is DARPA not aware that real animals do all of this for much less money?

  • fintin

    Not necessarily. Animals can get sick, or tired, and aren’t as amphibious. They also require food and water, and are sometimes unpredictable. These robots are a lot less of a hassle, they can go through all terrain, don’t get tired, don’t need training, etc. They’re basically a lot more reliable.

    I still can’t get over the fact that the big dog can withstand being pushed off balance, which is, in one word, incredible. It’s a trooper.

  • WetHippie

    They don’t get tired, per se, but they do have maintenance that needs to be performed and they still need some sort of energy source, thus requiring refueling (ie food).

  • Matt

    @ fintin

    Yeah, you’re right. I’m sure that water and grass is much more expensive then metal, polymers, wires, processors, and whatever else they’ve made it out of. I’m not sure you noticed, but Big Dog had some real problems with hills and programming is similar to training. I’m not denying that this is technologically awesome. I want to continue seeing more robots like this in the future. However, there is a certain disconnect between the effort and money being put into this project and the potential benefits over live animals.

  • Moe


    Measuring cost vs benefits on a mid-term basis, and only regarding those military robots, I’d say: live animals win.
    But the knowledge gained out of this project is usable in a number of different fields like prosthetics, programming, fine engineering… and of course robotics in general.

    Some advantages over live animals:
    – Soldiers probably won’t get emotionally attached to Big Dog. Thus if get shot, won’t have a hard time getting over it (I don’t know about the engineers though ;P)
    – You can stack these things in tight spaces and transoprt them over large distance with ease.
    – You can drop them via parachute without freaking out.
    – If you don’t need them, you can switch them off.
    – The trainig you mentioned only needs to be done once (once per every version, not for every robot).

    How women react to these things in a public park remains to be seen (I didn’t read the specs, but I think big dog gives +10 on “Strange Nerd”)(this may be a negative).

  • Link

    The other advantage of robots is far fewer people will complain about cruelty, danger or harm to robots. It’ll just be a matter of $$$.

  • Gray

    DARPA might be thinking a bit farther in the future than you think. Sure a donkey is almost competitive with LS3 now, but give it ten years and LS3 might become a weaponized asset which the donkey alternative can’t touch.

  • Geack


    Are we really arguing about whether DARPA has improved on the pack mule for military purposes? This is about making something completely new. Anyone who can watch those videos and not see an AT-AT Walker or Ripley’s exoskeleton needs to forfeit his nerd card immediately.

  • MadAl


    Cheetah 2 is being devloped and program is to get it to run at 70mph and hunt prey (human targets).

    Atlas Robot is 2nd phase of Petman and will be identical to T800 terminator robot…


    USA DEFENSE ->>>>>>>>>> SKYNET


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar