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.
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