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Wild Future Weapon: Army's High-Speed 'Cheetah' Robot Would 'Chase Human Prey

"...zigzag to chase and evade...

You can run but you can't hide, the saying goes. But what if you had a robot that could outrun enemy soldiers or, better yet, hunt them down?

That might soon be the case if the Army's latest, futuristic weapon turns out to be a success. It's called the "cheetah," and Boston-based Boston Dynamics has a goal of designing it to match the speed of its animal kingdom counterpart -- 70 mph.

"As the name implies, Cheetah is designed to be a four-legged robot with a flexible spine and articulated head (and potentially a tail) that runs faster than the fastest human," Wired reports. "In addition to raw speed, Cheetah’s makers promise that it will have the agility to make tight turns so that it can 'zigzag to chase and evade' and be able to stop on a dime."

But 70 mph could be a little ways off. For now, the Daily Mail says, designers are focusing on achieving more school-zone speeds of 20 to 30 mph in the next 20 months.

The robot isn't without some controversy. As the Mail points out, the Department of Defense isn't quite sure what purpose the machine will serve yet, which raises some questions about its necessity.

“[The Department of Defense is] not so focused on what the ultimate use will be,” Marc Raibert, lead investigator on the project and president of Boston Dynamics told the Boston Herald. “They’re most focused on developing the technology and seeing what uses they can be applied to.”

But, he said, “All that functionality you can imagine being put into future systems that would be useful for various kinds of military field use.”

The company was also awarded a contract to develop another robot called "Atlas." "[B]uilt with two legs and two arms," the Herald says, it "will walk like a man, using heel-to-toe motions and long strides. It will be able to climb, turn sideways to squeeze through narrow passages and use its hands to maneuver in rough terrain with human-like agility, according to the engineering company."

Boston Dynamics does have a successful track record in designing such androids. In 2008 it developed "BigDog," a four-legged robot that can carry up to four large Army backpacks over tough terrain:

And Atlas even has an older brother named "Petman" -- an earlier prototype "built to test out chemical weapons protective suits for the Army by 'walking, crawling and doing a variety of suit-stressing calisthenics' and 'simulat[ing] human physiology'":

While no information one the value of the new contracts has been released, Raibert told the Herald they are worth several million dollars each.

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