March 27, 2012 at 1:26 PM ET
For now, when a weaponless bi-pedal robot is chasing you down the street, escape is as easy as veering off into the woods, a construction site or some other uneven landscape where most bots are ill-equipped to maneuver quickly.
Those days, however, are coming to an end.
For better or worse, researchers with San Francisco-based Meka Robotics and the University of Texas at Austin are working on a bi-pedal robot named Hume that they hope will one day run with the same ease as humans across any kind of landscape.
Technically, the running skill that researchers hope to program into Hume is called human-centered hyper-agility. IEEE explains:
"Like humans, Hume will rely on minimal perception: when we run, we're not staring at the ground for every step, but rather adapting passively to small terrain variations without having to devote a lot of brain power to not falling on our faces."
The team is aware that Boston Dynamics' four-footed Petman robot built with funding from DARPA already has this skill, but note in a paper that that robot's "detailed architecture is uncertain to us."
Petman undoubtedly will find use hauling gear for soldiers. The team working on Hume expect their technology will also have a "direct impact in design of human assistive devices for all terrains and the next generation semi-autonomous robot."
While this development seems like good news in the ongoing effort to improve our ability to catch enemies, robots that run as well as or better than humans could be a daunting prospect if they ever turn against us.
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.