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The Military Technology

DARPA's Headless Robotic Mule Takes Load Off Warfighters 210

Posted by samzenpus
from the tenser-approved dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "If robots are ever really going to carry the equipment of US soldiers and Marines, they're going to have to act more like pack animals. Now Terri Moon Cronk reports that DARPA's semiautonomous Legged Squad Support System — also known as the LS3 — will carry 400 pounds of warfighter equipment and walk 20 miles at a time also acting as an auxiliary power source for troops to recharge batteries for radios and handheld devices while on patrol. 'It's about solving a real military problem: the incredible load of equipment our soldiers and Marines carry in Afghanistan today,' says Army Lt. Col. Joseph K. Hitt, program manager in DARPA's tactical technology office. The robot's sensors allow it to navigate around obstacles at night, maneuver in urban settings, respond to voice commands, and gauge distances and directions. The LS3 can also distinguish different forms of vegetation when walking through fields and around bushes and avoid logs and rocks with intelligent foot placement on rough terrain (video). The robot's squad leader can issue 10 basic commands to tell the robot to do such things as stop, sit, follow him tightly, follow him on the corridor, and go to specific coordinates. Darpa figures that it's illogical to make a soldier hand over her rucksack to a robotic beast of burden if she's then got to be preoccupied with 'joysticks and computer screens' to guide it forward. 'That adds to the cognitive burden of the soldier,' Hitt explains. 'We need to make sure that the robot also is smart, like a trained animal.'"
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DARPA's Headless Robotic Mule Takes Load Off Warfighters

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  • by DeTech (2589785) on Friday December 21, 2012 @12:33AM (#42356527)
    Have you seen this platform? Most Harley's are quieter, most rock concerts are too. You could avoid this thing like a ghost avoids Mrs. Pacman after she swallows a power pellet.
  • by macraig (621737) <mark.a.craig@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Friday December 21, 2012 @12:38AM (#42356545)

    ... but the only thing American troops should be carrying in Afghanistan now, if anything at all, is humanitarian aid. Or vacation equipment, if they came back for a personal tour of non-duty.

  • One you forgot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday December 21, 2012 @12:39AM (#42356555)

    How many bullets can a donkey take (or even near misses) before all your equipment is leaving you at a rapid pace?

    Robots don't startle (or die) easy.

    An animal has common sense, which makes it a poor companion for military use without a ton of training and even then it's pretty vulnerable.

  • Impractical (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Douglas001 (2782061) on Friday December 21, 2012 @12:40AM (#42356559)
    This thing seems extremely complex, loud and expensive for something that could be done by a horse or a donkey.
  • Re:Beast of burden (Score:4, Insightful)

    by macraig (621737) <mark.a.craig@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Friday December 21, 2012 @12:40AM (#42356561)

    Two syllables: bul-lets.

  • Re:Beast of burden (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Saija (1114681) on Friday December 21, 2012 @12:51AM (#42356635) Journal
    Also the live thing could be used as a meat source ...
    Hmmmmm donkey ribs....
  • Re:Impractical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ryanrule (1657199) on Friday December 21, 2012 @01:24AM (#42356857)

    These new-fangled cars will never catch on. I could just ride my horse where I need to go.

  • Re:One you forgot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Friday December 21, 2012 @04:33AM (#42357593)

    Does the LS3 work after being shot up? Silly comparison.

    The kinds of animals that locals use can be used locally, by definition. It would make the US troops seem more human, and caring for actual animals may reduce the dehumanisation/PTSD of those troops after a decade+ at war.

    And troops can periodically donate animals to villages. Good for hearts'n'minds. (Particularly if the US breeding program selects only the most combat-trainable animals, leaving you with some excess each year, but also as the animal age too much for heavily loaded mountain patrols but are still okay for farm-work on flatter ground.)

    But, the key is that if there was a need for LS3, then the US would already be using pack animals. They aren't, so there probably isn't.

  • by Celeritas 5k (1587217) on Friday December 21, 2012 @04:58AM (#42357681)
    It has several advantages-- gasoline is more energy dense than the food you'd have to carry for a mule, it doesn't get tired, no animal rights issues that would surely result from bringing a mule into a combat zone, and I'm not sure how much your average mule can carry but I don't think it's 400 lbs. The biggest thing is that it's a basis to be improved upon. The next model will be lighter, more reliable, quieter, have more capacity, etc. Give it a few years and I wouldn't be surprised to see civilian applications as well.
  • by udoschuermann (158146) on Friday December 21, 2012 @06:55AM (#42358223) Homepage

    What all you nay-sayers forget is that this is only the very beginning of (debatable) usefulness. What comes out of this research over the next 10, 30 or 50 years, however, may prove surprising, and not just for how far this "mule" has come, but what other technologies it throws off along the way.

  • Re:One you forgot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ultranova (717540) on Friday December 21, 2012 @08:51AM (#42358861)

    But, the key is that if there was a need for LS3, then the US would already be using pack animals. They aren't, so there probably isn't.

    Don't think of it as a robotized donkey, think of it as a jeep that can move in really rought terrain. Also, there's obvious future benefits to supporting this kind of thing, since walking is far superior to wheels anywhere except roads - and nothing stops you from attaching wheels on the bottoms of a walking robot's feet.

    Just imagine it: a two-ton walking, climbing, rollerblading autonomous spider tank armed with lasers, capable of dodging rockets, never sleeping, never resting, tirelessly prowling the night looking for its intended targets... And just to go that extra mile, we could equip it with a glucose-burning fuel cell and have it suck its victims dry with its titanium mandibles. And if you do get a lucky hit, the thing will release a horde of flying robotized killer bees that attack everything in sight.

    The possibilities are endless.

  • by dywolf (2673597) on Friday December 21, 2012 @09:40AM (#42359363)

    Oh look, another troll fishing for an insightful mod.

    Seriously. If we're so damn superstition and ill educated, why does everyone still come to our schools from around the world, particularly china and india? Why are we the country that gave the world computers, space flight, airplace, nuclear physics, .... you know what, theres too many things to list.

    Lets cut to the chase: You are a moron and a troll who has engaged his "must bash USA" autopilot and not worthy of any more of my time.

  • Re:Beast of burden (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dywolf (2673597) on Friday December 21, 2012 @09:43AM (#42359385)

    Not bullets. The real reason is two fold:
    -animals get tired
    -animals get scared

    robots do neither.

  • Re:Beast of burden (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 21, 2012 @11:02AM (#42360225)

    Soldiers get emotionally attached to animals, especially during war.

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Friday December 21, 2012 @11:43AM (#42360703)

    Why are we the country that gave the world computers, space flight, airplace, nuclear physics, .... you know what, theres too many things to list.

    Notice how all those things are in the past? Not to mention that space flight was given to you by German scientists, nuclear physics was developed mostly by Europeans (I know it's popular to think that Einstein was American when he had his Annus Mirabilis, but he wasn't), and the Wright brothers were building on stuff that had been worked on by Europeans for about 200 years. The Wright brothers beat the rest of the world by a few years, tops. Nothing to really brag about.

    And people go to our graduate (and some undergraduate) schools because they are the best in the world. For now. In the meantime, a very large section of Americans poo-poos education, tries to cut its funding, and drags down the average education of America to an embarrassing level.

    That's why people bash the US education. But, just like the Republicans just before and after the 2012 election, keep telling yourself that people are just using the wrong metrics, and the outcome was biased and bought anyway, so it wasn't "real". The rest of the world will move just along.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov

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