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DARPA Robot Sprints To Speed Record

DARPA-funded Cheetah robot sets sprightly pace of up to 18 miles per hour. In another project, a robotic arm achieves human tasks autonomously.

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The Department of Defense's investment in robotics research is beginning to show signs of progress, with one of its robots achieving a record-breaking milestone, and another demonstrating it can autonomously perform human tasks.

A four-legged robot called Cheetah, developed with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funding by Boston Dynamics, has achieved a galloping speed of up to 18 miles per hour, a new land-speed record for legged robots, according to the agency.

DARPA posted a video of the galloping robot on its website. The previous record was 13.1 mph, set in 1989, according to the agency.

The agency attributed the robot's speed to its movements having been modeled on the actual cheetah, which is the world's fastest animal, and other speedy quadrupeds.

[ Read about DARPA's space robots. See DARPA Aims to Repurpose Retired Satellitesl. ]

"The robot increases its stride and running speed by flexing and un-flexing its back on each step, much as an actual cheetah does," according to DARPA.

The Cheetah that broke the record ran on a lab treadmill powered by an off-board hydraulic pump. It also used a boom-like device to keep it running in the center of the treadmill, according to DARPA. However, the agency plans to test a free-running prototype later this year.

Boston Dynamics developed Cheetah as part of DARPA's Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program, which aims to create robots that can achieve unprecedented mobility and ability to perform human tasks.

Although the research itself is not particularly military oriented, the Department of Defense could use these robots to improve how it performs tasks in military engagements that would be dangerous or extremely difficult for humans, such as disposing of explosives.

Another project that's part of that program, Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM), also is showing significant gains, the agency said.

In another video posted online, DARPA shows a robotic arm and hand from its ARM program autonomously performing 18 grasping and manipulation tasks using vision, force, and tactile sensing--including hanging up a telephone, turning on a desk light and drilling a hole into a block of wood with a drill.

DARPA is now turning its attention to the second phase of the ARM program, which will be to engage in more complex tasks that involve using two hands.

A year ago, DARPA consolidated and expanded robotics efforts under the M3 program umbrella, which has four parallel and concurrent development tracks: design tools, fabrication methodologies, control methods, and technology demonstration prototypes. The agency has contracted with different universities and companies to handle the work of each of the individual tracks.

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