Track workouts just got a lot more interesting. Puma has developed a speedy line-following robot called the BeatBot that is aimed at giving track runners an electronic competitor when there is no flesh-and-blood human on hand. The robot “sees” the lines painted on a track and follows them at a designated speed in order to give a racer a moving physical object to pace off of. What follows is nothing less than a game of “catch the robot.”
Puma’s BeatBot operates not unlike a remote-controlled car that moves in straight lines. Developed by MIT engineering graduate students, it has four wheels and an accompanying app for customizing the robot’s pace and distance. It isn’t entirely straightforward for a robot to move perfectly straight and forward, which is why the BeatBot’s motors make 100 adjustment maneuvers per second to keep the bot on course. It follows any plainly visible line on the ground (like the lines on a track) by way of nine infrared sensors, and two GoPro cameras record race footage — one looking forward, one looking backward.
For example, if a runner can’t beat an 11-second 100-yard dash, he or she might train by dialing the robot in to run a 10.5-second pace. The idea is that the human competitor will be able to train on the four-wheeled gadget’s speed and eventually overtake it on the regular. As of now, the training robot is only available to Puma’s sponsored athletes, but it will become available to the public this year.