September 11, 2012
Robotic Pack Mule Prances Its Way Into The Heart Of The Military
Watch the Video: DARPA Legged Squad Support System (LS3)
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe OnlineYesterday, two of Boston Dynamics finest 4-legged bots got the chance to strut their stuff in front of some military top brass during a demonstration.
These bots are the result of an ongoing effort by DARPA´s Legged Squad Support System (LS3) program which has made it their goal to build “highly mobile, semi-autonomous legged robots” which can not only traverse tricky terrain on its own, but also carry 400 pounds of cargo as it does so.
During yesterday´s demonstration, 2 of these “pack mule” prototype bots showed off new gaits, improved perception and a quieter operation to Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and Arati Prabhakar, director of DARPA.
These pack mule bots underwent their first outdoor tests earlier this year. Since these tests, Boston Dynamics and the rest of the LS3 team have been making improvements on these robotic beasts of burden so that one day, they´ll be able to perform every task asked of them. In the end, these 4-legged bots could be used to carry cargo and even troops into and out of battle zones, overcoming hills, rocks and all other manner of perilous terrain.
“We´ve refined the LS3 platform and have begun field testing against requirements of the Marine Corps,” said Army Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, DARPA program manager in a statement at darpa.mil.
“The vision for LS3 is to combine the capabilities of a pack mule with the intelligence of a trained animal.”
These prototypes were first asked to perform some “trotting and jogging mobility runs,” as well as demonstrate their perception visualization and autonomy.
While it´s no small feat to get a robot to walk on all fours by themselves, these prototypes were a bit slow and rather loud during their tests earlier this year.
“Other improvements include the ability to go from a 1- to 3-mph walk and trot over rough, rocky terrain, easily transition to a 5-mph jog and, eventually, a 7-mph run over flat surfaces, showing the versatility needed to accompany dismounted units in various terrains,” said Hitt.
“The LS3 has demonstrated it is very stable on its legs, but if it should tip over for some reason, it can automatically right itself, stand up and carry on. LS3 also has the ability to follow a human leader and track members of a squad in forested terrain and high brush.”
Based on the videos of yesterday´s tests and the test from February, the LS3 prototypes have also undergone a bit of a facelift, receiving some branding courtesy of Boston Dynamics and getting rid of the black “socks” which covered most of the robot´s exterior during the February test.
The partnership between Boston Dynamics and DARPA has produced some very interesting creations. Last week, one of these robots made headlines as it sprinted past the fastest man on Earth into the record books, setting a new land speed record. The Cheetah robot successfully took a treadmill up to 28.3 miles per hour last Wednesday, not only beating a record it had set earlier for fastest 4-legged robot, but also beating Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt´s fastest time of 27.78 miles per hour.