Eric Holder presents legal case for drones, as DARPA releases robotic cheetah

Eric Holder presents legal case for drones, as DARPA releases robotic cheetah


With Attorney General Eric Holder presenting the U.S.’s case for using drones to kill terrorists throughout the world, the Department of Defense’s latest robotic project set a new land speed record, according to scientists working in coordination with the agency.

According to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) researchers, the Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program has created a cheetah robot capable to running at speeds of 18 MPH, a new land speed record for legged robots. The robot’s movements are patterned after those of fast-running animals in nature, according to researchers, and it is considered the first robot capable of running faster than humans.

The robot, named “Cheetah,” is the latest project in a series of robotic inventions put forth by the DoD. Researchers say the robot represents a mastery of a number of essential motor functions that allow for increased mobility and speed. The Cheetah robot is designed to go even faster as development continues, according researchers. Team leaders note that at least one significant challenge has been to build a control mechanism that coordinates the movement of the device’s back, which could allow the robotic cheetah to increase its speed.

“The biggest thing,” said Marc Raibert, a former MIT professor who oversaw the project, “was to get the coordination between the flexing of the back and the swinging of legs just right, so as to keep the system stable. Other adjustments were made on the separation between the legs to establish the gallop and the pace.”

DARPA has yet to say explicitly what it expects from the robot or exactly where it expects to deploy the robot, however, the research group has increasingly focused funding on creating a number of robots capable of assisting the U.S. military in regions around the world. It is thought that various robots could assist the U.S. military with missions to dispose of roadside bombs and navigate other battlefield perils. According scientists working on the project, the robot is designed to “chase and evade.” Aside from its unspecified military applications, Cheetah’s makers see it galloping to the rescue and building a brave new future in the fields of “emergency response, firefighting, advanced agriculture and vehicular travel.”

The DARPA team said that the latest research was meant to mimic creatures of the natural world. Researchers said they plan to fully test the prototype later this year, adding that a final timetable for deploying the robot remains uncertain.

“The robot’s movements are patterned after those of fast-running animals in nature.  The robot increases its stride and running speed by flexing and un-flexing its back on each step, much as an actual cheetah does,” said researchers. “The current version of the Cheetah robot runs on a laboratory treadmill where it is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump, and uses a boom-like device to keep it running in the center of the treadmill.  Testing of a free-running prototype is planned for later this year.”

The announcement comes just months after DARPA noted the awarding of a contract to the northeastern group. At the time, Boston Dynamics said its goal with the project was to create a four-legged robot with a flexible spine and articulated head that runs faster than the fastest human.

The U.S. has faced increased scrutiny in recent months as policy makers continue to fund the building of drones. Speaking Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder defended the program, presenting a legal case for the killing of suspected terrorists. Such killings can be ordered “in full accordance with the Constitution” but require “at least” an imminent threat in a situation where capture is not feasible, and when the strike is “conducted in a manner consistent” with the rules of war.

The constitution “does not require judicial approval before the president may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war — even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen,” he added.