It’s dark out. It’s always dark these days. Something about ash from all the fires blocking out the sun? You can’t remember. It’s not like it matters. The MIT Cheetah 3 robot doesn’t need sun to hunt you down and dance on your soon-to-be lifeless corpse.
You recall when you first read about the “full-grown Labrador” sized robot. It was a Thursday in July, and you somehow happened across press release from EurekAlert. The document (remember documents?) described a 90-pound bot designed to navigate without relying on what would then be described as traditional visual cues. Instead, according to the MIT researchers who developed it, it used “tactile information” to move around.
The Cheetah 3 could operate in complete darkness. Unlike humans. What could possibly go wrong?
You remember believing the designer, Sangbae Kim was his name, when he said the Cheetah would be used to help.
“Cheetah 3 is designed to do versatile tasks such as power plant inspection, which involves various terrain conditions including stairs, curbs, and obstacles on the ground,” Kim, the associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, explained in the fateful press release. “I think there are countless occasions where we [would] want to send robots to do simple tasks instead of humans.”
Suddenly sending your friends and family to their graves is a simple task.
But there’s no time to think back on happier times. You have to keep moving.
You fumble for the flashlight in your pack, smacking the base repeatedly against the palm of your hand until it flickers to life. A set of winding stairs is illuminated ahead of you, a long hallway behind.
And then you hear it. The thomp thomp thomp of heavy little robot legs echoing from somewhere in the building.
You start to climb, and briefly consider leaving you pack on the stairs with the hope of tripping the Cheetah 3 up before remembering that won’t do any good. A specially designed algorithm allows the bot — “blind” or not — to compensate for obstacles in its path.
“It doesn’t know the height of each step,” Kim explained, “and doesn’t know there are obstacles on the stairs, but it just plows through without losing its balance.”
The soft thuds that presage your downfall are getting louder. Designers had dubbed it the “slow trot walk,” but somehow that doesn’t do what you’re hearing justice. You don’t even want to know what the Cheetah 3’s “gallop” mode sounds like, but you imagine you’ll soon have a chance to find out.
You’ve wasted too much time. It’s almost here.
Exiting the staircase, your flashlight starts to dim — but still you manage to make out a large table in the corner of the room. You dash toward it and pull yourself up, but not before the Cheetah 3 passes through the doorway behind you.
And not before you remember that moment, at around two minutes and thirty-four seconds into a MIT YouTube video that you watched years ago, when the Cheetah 3 shows it’s perfectly capable of jumping onto a desk.