DARPA are experts as creating robots, such as the Cheetah, which can reportedly run faster than Usain Bolt. This week, the defense research agency unveiled their two robotic ‘pack mule’ prototypes known as the Legged Squad Support System (LS3). The ‘pack mules’ are designed to aid soldiers in combat environments by carrying up to 400lbs of equipment in rough terrain. They are even capable of following verbal and visual commands!

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DARPA scientists demonstrated their robotic pack mules in front of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos and DARPA Director, Arati Prabhakar. The test involved the robot being put through the same kind of paces that a squad of soldiers would face while on patrol. The demonstration was a complete success, as the legged robot was able to show that a legged robot could “unburden dismounted squad members by carrying their gear, autonomously following them through rugged terrain, and interpreting verbal and visual commands”.

“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. “The vision for LS3 is to combine the capabilities of a pack mule with the intelligence of a trained animal.”

“LS3 is now roughly 10 times quieter than when the platform first came online, so squad members can carry on a conversation right next to it, which was difficult before.”

“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,” Hitt said. “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.”

Testing is expected to continue approximately every quarter at military bases across the country, culminating in a Marine Corps Advanced Warfighting Experiment wherein the LS3 will be embedded with a squad for an operational exercise.

“Augmenting small dismounted units with autonomous capabilities can be a potent force multiplier,” said Brig. Gen. Mark R. Wise, commanding general, MCWL.  “The concerted efforts being made to better define autonomous robotic capabilities that help (lighten the load) provide greater mobility and agility to dismounted Marine and U.S. Army forces across the battle space, further demonstrate what can be achieved through partnering with DARPA and other DoD entities in support of the Warfighter.”



Via Information Week