Boston Dynamics' Cheetah robot has just set a new record for legged robots by sprinting at 28.3 mph. This, incidentally, is also faster than Olympic (human) champion Usain Bolt, who set the world record for the 100 meter dash with a speed of 27.8 mph back in 2009. Yes, this means that now there is officially no escape from a robot cheetah on a treadmill. You've been warned.
To boost Cheetah's speed, Boston Dynamics "refined the control algorithms that coordinate the robot's leg and back motions and increased the installed power." Making the robot faster isn't just a matter of cranking up the power and increasing leg speed, but rather involves a biologically-inspired choreography of interactions between the robot's feet, legs, and back.
Cheetah, of course, is not running outdoors, where it would have to deal with wind resistance. It's also relying on off-board power, and without that boom in place, it would likely fall over, meaning that if you find yourself being chased by the current version of this robot, a simple movement to the left or right should stymie it completely whether you're Usain Bolt or not. With this in mind, Boston Dynamics concedes that "Bolt is still the superior athlete," but perhaps not for long: this is by no means the final version of Cheetah, and Boston Dynamics is currently creating a new version of the robot called WildCat that will be running outdoors as of early next year.
This robot will be untethered (looks like it's probably powered by a gasoline engine like AlphaDog) and it will also be able to, you know, turn. Boston Dynamics isn't stopping at 28.3 mph, either: we know they've had their eye on 50 mph for a while, and the top speed of a biological cheetah (approximately 70 mph) may eventually be within reach. We're not sure when this will be, but considering that Cheetah made it from a top speed of 18 mph in March of this year to 28 mph less than five months later, we can't imagine it'll be long enough for us to get comfortable with the idea of being chased down (and possibly eaten) by a robotic quadruped.