Marc Raibert, a former MIT professor who is among the world’s foremost authorities in robot locomotion, sent a note to announce that his company’s Cheetah robot had broken the robot land speed record, clocking in at 18 mph on a treadmill in this video.

Cheetah is to be a military robot, designed by Raibert’s Boston Dynamics and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The idea is to create a machine that can outrun a human - - something robots have been conspicuously unable to do in the past. It might even vaguely resemble a cheetah, although the prototype on the video looks more like a very agitated pig.

Robot locomotion is the Holy Grail of humanoid robot design. The simple act of walking has proven almost impossible to recreate in a machine, although Honda’s Asimo robot has perfected an odd sort of trotting motion. Walking is a sort of perpetual falling, and robots lack an intuitive sense of balance.

I asked Raibert what sort of engineering tweaks it took to attain such speeds with Cheetah.

“The biggest thing,” he replied, “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.”

According to Wired magazine, the robot will be designed to “chase and evade.” And it has a robo-buddy named Atlas, who looks a bit like a headless Terminator.

“Let’s hope Cheetah never develops a taste for human flesh,” Wired observes.