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Boston Dynamics robot sets speed record

A four-legged prototype robot built by Boston Dynamics in Waltham has reached a speed of 18 miles per hour, a record for such machines, the company said Monday.

The previous record for legged robots was 13.1 miles per hour, set at MIT in 1989, according to Boston Dynamics.

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“This robot is galloping,’’ said Boston Dynamics president Marc Raibert. “It’s the first time we’ve had a robot that gallops.’’

Development of the robot, called Cheetah, is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation research program. The project is aimed at creating robots that could “much more effectively assist war fighters across a greater range of missions,’’ according to an agency release.

Raibert declined to reveal how much funding the Cheetah project receives.

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The Cheetah robot runs on four legs; suspended above are cables, including connections to its power source, and a boom-like device that helps keep the robot centered on a treadmill. “Later this year, we’re going to get a version that leaves the lab and will operate outdoors,’’ Raibert said.

Cheetah follows other Boston Dynamic prototype designs with potential military and civilian uses, including the pack robot BigDog and Petman, a machine resembling a human figure that will be used to test clothing designed to protect soldiers from chemical warfare agents.

Although Cheetah is a research platform, potential uses include emergency rescue and disaster response, particularly over rough terrain, according to Boston Dynamics.

The Cheetah is designed to go even faster as development continues, according to Raibert. One challenge has been to build a control mechanism that coordinates the movement of the robot’s back, which is articulated to stretch in both directions, with the motion of the legs.

“We have come a long way to get 18 miles per hour, but we still have a long way to go,’’ said Raibert.

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