A real cheetah can run as fast as 70-75 mph in short bursts, so DARPA's Cheetah robot still has a ways to go in that regard. But as far as robotics go, DARPA's mechanical Cheetah is the fastest legged robot in the history of mankind, hitting a top speed of 28.3 mph on camera (see embedded video below).
To put that into perspective, Cheetah is capable of exceeding the speed limit in residential areas. It's also faster than Usain Bolt, who set the world speed record for a human in 2009 when he hit a peak speed of 27.78 mph during a 20-meter split.
So, what's the point?
"Modeling the robot after a cheetah is evocative and inspiring, but our goal is not to copy nature. What DARPA is doing with its robotics programs is attempting to understand and engineer into robots certain core capabilities that living organisms have refined over millennia of evolution: efficient locomotion, manipulation of objects and adaptability to environments," said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager. "Cheetahs happen to be beautiful examples of how natural engineering has created speed and agility across rough terrain. Our Cheetah bot borrows ideas from nature’s design to inform stride patterns, flexing and unflexing of parts like the back, placement of limbs and stability. What we gain through Cheetah and related research efforts are technological building blocks that create possibilities for a whole range of robots suited to future Department of Defense missions."
Cheetah is a project of DARPA's Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program, which tasks itself with refining robotic movement and capabilities in less than ideal terrain. It's only see action on a treadmill so far, but DARPA says it plans to send a prototype into the wild next year.