Pack Mule Robot Follows You Around
December 20, 2012

‘Pack Mule’ Robot Gets Better At Following Humans

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

When humanity first built a robot to build cars for us, we thought their determined logic and tireless work ethic would help to create a better automobile. Then we asked robots to perform other monotonous tasks for us, glad to be rid of such boring jobs. Now, we´re making robots humanoid, capable of playing soccer and dancing the popular dances of today´s pop music culture. What´s even more frightening, we´re asking them to save our lives and work alongside us. DARPA has even been hard at work creating animalistic robots to follow us, even if one tries to dodge them.

DARPA´s Legged Squad Support System (or LS3) has been around for a while, gradually and unnaturally making its rounds across the Internet. In September, DARPA (in partnership with Boston Dynamics) had a chance to show off the LS3 and its new improvements as a robotic beast of burden.

Yesterday, DARPA announced even more improvements to the 4-legged pack-mule.

In a video entitled LS3 Follow Tight, this automaton is seen following a man outfitted with some satellite equipment. As the man takes a casual and winding stroll through the forest, the LS3 is capable of following right along, staying no more than 20 feet or so behind the man at all times. The video also displays what the LS3 animalbot perceives as it follows the man, with path lines drawn out precisely tracing his steps. As the man walks along, the LS3 is able to follow almost the exact same path, winding through trees and hills. The LS3´s all-terrain ability keeps the robot on the path, and if it happens to lose its footing, (as it does at the 2:15 minute mark in the video) its rounded “ribcage” helps it to stay protected and eventually land on its feet once more.

DARPA and Boston Dynamics have been building out these robots for the Marine Corps for use in future battles as pack mules. These LS3 bots can carry equipment into dangerous areas as well as carry wounded soldiers to safety.

The end goal for LS3 is to one day be able to carry up to 400 pounds and capable of walking 20 miles under its own power, without any human intervention.

“The vision for LS3 is to combine the capabilities of a pack mule with the intelligence of a trained animal,” explained Army Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, DARPA program manager, in the September statement.

The newly improved LS3 is capable of walking at 3 miles per hour through rough terrain and even getting to speeds of 7 miles per hour once it reaches full gallop. DARPA announced the LS3´s ability to stalk and follow a human guide in September, and has shown off this improved ability this week.

This latest demo was also meant to show off the voice activation of the LS3, as well as the robot´s ability to operate at night and navigate around obstacles.

For LS3´s next trick, DARPA will take the robot to the desert in March to test it in different terrains and weather conditions.

"We need to make sure the platform is robust enough to handle the abuse the Marines will give it," said Hitt in a recent statement.

According to Hitt, LS3 needs to be able to stand up to some abuse, saying the robot will fall “over and over” again during real world use.