Military's Robot Mule Carries on Despite Fall
The LS3 robot can carry 400 pounds in field testing as a robotic mule for U.S. troops on the battlefield.
A four-legged U.S. military robot carrying 400 pounds of equipment has shown how it can play "follow the leader" in a manner similar to a trained mule or horse. Like an animal, it can also regain its feet after an accidental tumble in the woods.
The Legged Squad Support System (LS3) robot has evolved into a quieter beast compared to earlier four-legged "BigDog" or "AlphaDog" robots that sounded like runaway lawnmowers or chainsaw-armed Terminators. The latest LS3 version represents the U.S. military's best hope for a robotic helper that can carry combat loads across rough terrain for soldiers or Marines.
A new video by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency demonstrates how the robot obeys a verbal command by a human researcher: "LS3 follow tight."
Several camera shots show the LS3 robot ambling after its human leader like an overlarge, clumsy puppy trying to keep up with an owner. At one point the robot takes a tumble and rolls almost comically down a slope before regaining its feet.
The video also shows the robot — made by Boston Dynamics — trotting along more briskly in a manner vaguely reminiscent of high-stepping horse. The robot succeeded in navigating ditches, streams, wooded slopes and mock-urban environments during the field testing by DARPA and the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.
U.S. Marines have already spent months working with robotic helicopters capable of delivering supplies to outposts or frontline troops. A robotic mule could serve different, if equally useful, purposes for squads on patrol.
DARPA envisions the robot acting like a mobile recharging station for U.S. troops to recharge pounds of batteries used in radios and handheld mobile devices. The Marines have already experimented with using renewable energy sources such as portable solar panels to replace some of the batteries they carry.
But the LS3 robot's greatest potential use comes from carrying some of the combat equipment that soldiers might normally have to carry themselves. The heavy burden of combat loads averaging close to 100 pounds per soldier has already taken a serious health toll on both active troops and returning veterans.