Mar 042011

It would be scary to be chased by a military robot.

It would also be scary to be chased by a cheetah. So, imagine what it would be like to have a military robotic cheetah sprinting after you. Such a scenario could one day be possible, as robotics company Boston Dynamics recently announced that America’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded it a contract to design and build such a … critter. The contract also includes the creation of an agile, bipedal humanoid robot. It’s hard to say which one might ultimately be creepier.

The CHEETAH robot will reportedly have four legs, a flexible spine, an articulated head/neck, and perhaps a tail. It will be able to run faster than any existing legged robot or human runner, make tight, zig-zagging turns in order to chase or evade, be able to accelerate very rapidly from a standstill, and stop just as quickly.

The other robot, ATLAS, “will walk like a man, using a heel-to-toe walking motion, long strides and dynamic transfer of weight on each step,” according to Boston Dynamics VP of Engineering Rob Playter. It will have a torso, two legs and two arms, although spookily enough, there’s no mention of a head. It will be able to turn sideways to squeeze through narrow passages, and use its hands for balance and support on rough terrain.

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