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.

The machine will incorporate some of the advanced behaviors already used in PETMAN (pictured above), another anthropomorphic robot that the company previously developed for the US Army. Both CHEETAH and ATLAS will also build upon control software and mechanical and electrical systems designed for PETMAN, and for the company's quadruped pack horse-like BigDog military robot.

While the exact purpose of either robot hasn't been stated, Boston Dynamics did say that "In addition to military applications, such robots can be used in civil and commercial applications such as emergency response, firefighting, advanced agriculture and vehicular travel in places that are inaccessible to conventional wheeled and tracked vehicles."

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