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'Cheetah-Cub' looks like a robot, runs like a cat

The Cheetah-Cub robot's legs are built like the legs of a real cat.
The Cheetah-Cub robot's legs are built like the legs of a real cat.Biorobotics Lab, EPFL

It's not quite as big as Boston Dynamics' Cheetah robot, and not nearly as terrifying. But the adorable four-legged, Swiss-made, Cheetah-Cub robot has a few tricks of its own.

Built at the Biorobotics lab at the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne, Cheetah-Cub is the size of a small house cat and is built to walk and run like one.

Like a flesh-and-blood feline, the legs of the Cheetah-Cub are made of three segment, with springs and actuators as stand-ins for tendon and muscle.

With legs like that, the Cheetah-Cub can stay stable while trotting on a flat surface and even while tacklingsmall obstacles like steps. Alexander Sproewitz, who helped build Cheetah-Cub while working at EPFL, told NBC News that the next step is to build sensors for the robot that will let it navigate rougher terrain.

Cheetah-Cub is also a runner, and clocks in at 3.1 miles per hour (1.4 meters per second). The critter runs fast enough for all four feet to be off the ground for a few seconds.

Compared to that, the bigger, scarier Cheetah Robot can do an impressive 28.3 miles per hour — but comparing speeds isn't the best judge of a sprinter.

"It's like comparing a mouse against an elephant," Sproewitz said. So instead robotics researchers and biologists measure running speeds in body-lengths per second. Cheetah-Cub runs seven of those, making it the fastest robot under 30 kilograms, the Sproewitz and co. say.

Because it's so small and stable, the Cheetah-Cub is a good guinea-pig on which researchers can study four-legged robot locomotion. But the real question is this: How long until it can chase its tail?

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science and cats. Follow her on Facebook, TwitterandGoogle+.