06/18/2013 08:09 am ET

Robot That Runs Like A Cat, 'Cheetah-Cub,' Could Be Used For Rescue Missions (VIDEO)

It's not exactly the cuddliest of kitties, but here's one cat that won't scratch up your sofa or leave dead mice in your shoes.

Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have created a "cheetah-cub" -- a robot that runs like a cat.

The prototype, which was described in the International Journal of Robotics Research, is meant to further research in biomechanics and could potentially be used for exploration or search-and-rescue missions, the researchers said in a written statement released by the institution.

In a video demonstration, EPFL researcher Alexander Sprowitz describes how the robot mimics a cat's movements, using springs for tendons and actuators for muscles. He also explains that the "cheetah-cub" robot could be used to climb rough, mountainous terrain that is beyond the abilities of other bots.

"Its much, much harder for a machine with wheels or with tracks to do this type of terrain," Sprowitz said.

At 8 inches long and about 6 inches tall, the robot is roughly the size of a house cat and is capable of running seven of its body lengths per second. Sprowitz told The Huffington Post that the cat-like robot moves at about the same speed as an adult human who is walking -- roughly 3.2 miles per hour.

The researchers chose to base the prototype on a cat instead of a larger animal part because of their limited lab space but also because the team wanted to study "natural" biomechanics. A dog bot was not an option since it would make more sense to choose an animal that is "less influenced by human breeding," Sprowitz explained.

The design is similar to the much larger Boston Dynamics' "Cheetah" robot, which holds the title of fastest legged robot in the world. While the larger "Cheetah" can run faster than 29 miles per hour, EPFL said the "cheetah-cub" robot takes the cake for fastest robot in its field of four-legged devices that weigh less than 66 pounds.

As NBC News notes, EPFL researchers will next focus on adding sensors to the design so the robot will be better able to navigate rough terrain.



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