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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 resistant (221968) on Friday December 21, 2012 @01:32AM (#42356523) Homepage Journal
    Many of the the superstitious, ill-educated tribesmen that U.S. ground troops regularly encounter already think the Americans are witches. A headless donkey scampering along with supplies will really mess with the heads of the rag-heads. Maybe some of them will flee in terror instead of shooting at our soldiers. Really, what's not to like? You'll excuse me for a moment whilst I cackle in wicked laughter and stroke my black cat with the unnaturally intelligent glow in its eyes. ^_^
    • Do you recall what primitive people do to witches?

      --

      Aside:

      "Stupidity common more hydrogen than. It you combat. Not try! Hard think, or not think!" - Sensei Yoda

      That's not even close to Yoda-speak. "More common than hydrogen, stupidity is. Combat it, you must. Think, or think not, there is no 'try'."

      • Do you recall what primitive people do to witches?

        Proper primitive folks sponsor a virgin tossing party at the local volcano to appease the Evil Spirits.

        We, being civilized folks, won't let them sacrifice their virgins, but we will be more than happy to take the virgins off the hands of the primitive folks.

      • Do you recall what primitive people do to witches?

        --

        Aside:

        "Stupidity common more hydrogen than. It you combat. Not try! Hard think, or not think!" - Sensei Yoda

        That's not even close to Yoda-speak. "More common than hydrogen, stupidity is. Combat it, you must. Think, or think not, there is no 'try'."

        Yes. They ask their consultant, Sir Bedivere [youtube.com], questions about their density.

    • by Simon Brooke (45012) <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:36AM (#42357607) Homepage Journal

      Many of the the superstitious, ill-educated tribesmen that U.S. ground troops regularly encounter already think the Americans are witches.

      Given that the US is about the most superstitious [newyorker.com], ill-educated [ibtimes.com] nation on the face of the Earth, that's a bit ripe. But then, of course, you famously don't do irony.

      • by dywolf (2673597) on Friday December 21, 2012 @10:40AM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by NeutronCowboy (896098)

          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 s

  • Beast of burden (Score:4, Interesting)

    by micromoog (206608) on Friday December 21, 2012 @01:36AM (#42356537)
    Sounds like a very expensive donkey/mule replacement. Why not just use real animals?
    • Re:Beast of burden (Score:4, Insightful)

      by macraig (621737) <(mark.a.craig) (at) (gmail.com)> on Friday December 21, 2012 @01:40AM (#42356561)

      Two syllables: bul-lets.

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

      by Saija (1114681) on Friday December 21, 2012 @01:51AM (#42356635) Journal
      Also the live thing could be used as a meat source ...
      Hmmmmm donkey ribs....
    • Because the mujahideen already knows that trick.

      That's how we supplied them [wikipedia.org] in the 1980's. They'll never expect this.

    • by ultranova (717540)

      Sounds like a very expensive donkey/mule replacement. Why not just use real animals?

      You can't just turn real animals off when you don't need them.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Sure you can. You just can't turn them on afterwards.
      • by Lumpy (12016)

        "You can't just turn real animals off when you don't need them."

        Oh yes you can. They have an off switch.. Problem is the on switch has not been invented yet.

    • by daem0n1x (748565)
      But then all the generals and politicians couldn't masturbate to yet another extremely expensive war toy! Let the guys enjoy themselves. What will you come up with next, live in peace? Crazy shit.
    • Re:Beast of burden (Score:5, Interesting)

      by plaukas pyragely (1630517) on Friday December 21, 2012 @09:23AM (#42358677)

      I know it's pricey and not perfect, but some cons of a mule compared to this machine:

      • You can't chuck a mule into storage to wait until it's required
      • You can't ship a mule in a, say, container
      • You can't (at least easily) airdrop a mule
      • You can't temporary hide a mule for couple days in a forest or under snow
      • You cannot remotely controll a mule
      • Mules might have difficulties in staying calm when bullets and bombs start flying arround
      • In case of injury the whole mule must be replaced, no spares

      Disclaimer: neither military, nor mule specialist ... Based on very general understandment about military

    • Because real animals have to be fed, meaning your solution to your supply problem is now *another* supply problem. Granted, machines need fuel, but you're now talking about a much smaller amount of stuff that has to be hauled for an equivalent carrying ability.

    • Sounds like a very expensive donkey/mule replacement. Why not just use real animals?

      I completely agree. In WWII, american scientists trained pigeons to steer bombs toward targets. One or more pigeons would actually be placed in a bomb and peck on a clear disc that would actuate the bombs fins. Training was fairly straight forward and their accuracy was better than anything else available at the time, including radar (although radar was still fairly new). The project was ultimately disbanded because the military wasn't interested.

  • Random questions (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ginger_Chris (1068390) on Friday December 21, 2012 @01:37AM (#42356541)

    How much can a donkey carry?
    How far can a donkey travel for before "recharging"?
    How quiet is a donkey? Would the donkey sounds draw as much unwanted attention?
    How much money would it cost to pick up a donkey in a local market and then feed it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DeTech (2589785)
      Quick! to the patent office, WAR DONKEY.
    • One you forgot (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday December 21, 2012 @01:39AM (#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.

      • Pack animals have been used by the military for millennia. Including the US military. The first cannon were drawn by horses. If they can be trained to handle cannon fire, they can be trained to ignore AK.

        • Can they be trained to ignore being shot?

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

            by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:33AM (#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 peragrin (659227)

              a robot will take more than one bullet though. Unless it is a really lucky shot.

              animals will only take one bullet.

              Also the trick is we are using pack animals we call them humvee's. Of course that is assuming there is a road to drive it on. if there are no roads, vehicles don't do so well.

              Guess what the conditions of where we have been fighting are like?

              • by Lumpy (12016)

                "animals will only take one bullet."

                You have never hunted before, have you.

                They can take more than 1 bullet easily. I have seen deer that were taken that had old bullet wounds that healed up and one even had an arrow head and shank inside it that healed and had a fiberous mass around it.

                • by toolie (22684)

                  They can take more than 1 bullet easily. I have seen deer that were taken that had old bullet wounds that healed up and one even had an arrow head and shank inside it that healed and had a fiberous mass around it.

                  And I'm sure that deer stuck around and listened to it's handler after it was shot or hit with the arrow also.

              • by dywolf (2673597)

                its not about the number of bullets they can take.
                we replaced animal when we started getting these things called "horseless carriages". yet if you know your history there were times we still used animals, primarily donkeys, in remote inaccessible places, even into WW2 and Korea, and a couple tiems in vietnam too. but even that has fallen by the wayside because now we have helicopters to get to really remote rough places.

                also we lightened much of the load a soldier is required to carry; or looked at another

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

              by ultranova (717540) on Friday December 21, 2012 @09:51AM (#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.

            • Does the LS3 work after being shot up?

              Why not? It could be fairly armored to take most machine gun fire without damage.

              Silly comparison.

              I agree. It's absurd to think a mule is anywhere near as robust in taking fire as something made of metal.

              The kinds of animals that locals use can be used locally, by definition.

              Most locals are not under fire often.

              It would make the US troops seem more human

              That is a good point, but it's the only thing better about using animals.

              It also increases you need for supplies (t

        • Artillery was pulled by horses and loaded on mules until well into the 20th Century. WW1 was a terrible bloodbath of innocent animals as well as people. In WW2, Germany reserved oil for critical military applications (like the ineffective V-weapons) and a lot of horses were still used. We have actually become slightly more civilised.
    • by Ryanrule (1657199)

      can you mass produce donkeys? airdrop them without giving a shit? strap bomps to them and send them at enemies as crazy self destruct drones?

    • How much can a donkey carry?

      Up to 250 pounds [shadowridgedonkeys.com].

      How far can a donkey travel for before "recharging"?

      Pretty much all day. They should be given access to water every couple of hours.

      How quiet is a donkey? Would the donkey sounds draw as much unwanted attention?

      Not nearly as loud as the stupid Big Dog (the robot on which this thing was based).

      How much money would it cost to pick up a donkey in a local market and then feed it?

      Even in the US, donkeys cost anywhere between nothing and $1000. That's one hell of a lot cheaper than a complicated, high tech gizmo supplied by a single source vendor on contract to the military. Further, donkeys can make more donkeys. That's a trick that robotic gizmos have yet to figure out.

      • On here - if its not a tech solution its not a solution. The fact that the afghans are still using donkeys very effectively and cheaply should tell the US military something , but then they wouldn't be able to waste a few billion quid on a something that is to a donkey what a water pistol is to an AK47.

        Or maybe its all down to pressure by PETA.

    • Parade song of the camp animals [cmu.edu].

      Like a lot of Kipling's verse, it starts off on a positive note and then the anti-war bit comes in at the end. But see the section for the "screw-gun mules".

    • by LoRdTAW (99712)

      More Random Questions:
      Can a donkey be stored in an airtight container until its needed?
      Can a donkey be given a set of GPS coordinates and expected to arrive at them in a timely manner?
      Can a donkey be constantly fed (refueled) and expected to run 24/7 without interruption?
      Can multiple donkeys be folded, stacked up and rapidly transported for deployment in a hostile war zone within 48 hours?
      Can a donkey be humanely air dropped?
      Can a donkey be trained so it is not spooked or startled by loud explosions or gun

  • ... 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.

    • Or they should be carrying supplies, weapons, and other matériel, but only as far as it takes to find some packing crates and enough C-130s to get the hell out of that place. Unfortunately, until they do this they'll have to carry bullets, not bread, because we've placed them in circumstances where they cannot worry about saving other lives as their own are at such great risk. Hell, half the bullets will have to be insurance against blue-on-green [cnn.com].
  • ... I'd read something in Pop Sci/Mech a few years back about DARPA trying to develope this same concept. Damned if I can remember when, but it ain't a new concept for DARPA...
    • by CoderJoe (97563) *

      Boston Dynamics has been working on varieties of this concept since the late 1990s or early 2000s. In 2005 they came out with a lighter version called BigDog. (The LS3 is apparently the next phase of the BigDog project). Here is a video from 2006: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpBG-nSRcrQ [youtube.com]

  • by CuteSteveJobs (1343851) on Friday December 21, 2012 @01:47AM (#42356617)
    This is perfect for me. I love sports, so long as I'm the one watching them and not playing them. I hate exercise. I love TV, eating and shopping, but carrying my purchases around the shopping center is hard work. Oh yeah I can use a push trolley, but they don't always go all the way out to the car park. And even if they do, how am I supposed to lift them into the trunk and get them out again? Do I look like Superman? So it's great to see DARPA producing technology with civilian applications, and just in time for Xmas! But I want it smaller, with speed stripes and a spoiler, so back to the drawing board I am afraid. But perhaps these civilian versions can pave the way for a later military version? America will be grateful. signed, Grateful taxpayer.
  • Sounds like a pulp-novel word for people who fight in wars. Specializations include gunshooter and woundfixer.

  • TFS

    a soldier hand over her rucksack to a robotic beast of burden

    adds to the cognitive burden of the soldier

    Free association of ideas: how long 'til the soldier's burden of cognition is entirely handed over to the robotic beast?

  • by dbc (135354) on Friday December 21, 2012 @01:59AM (#42356687)

    Boston Dynamics has been working on this (and posting YouTube videos) for years. That this exists isn't news. That it is finally deployed, OK, a little newsy, but nobody that follows robotics is unaware of Big Dog.

    BTW -- here is a hilarious spoof video:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXI4WWhPn-U [youtube.com]
    but search for 'big dog' and watch some of the real ones first. Then the spoof - it's a crack up.

  • M.U.L.E. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Jookey (604878) <Jookey16@hotmail.com> on Friday December 21, 2012 @02:03AM (#42356709)

    The competing agency FARPA is developing competitor to the LS3 technology. The name for this project is the Military Utility Logistics Engine. The stats are about the same except:
    MULE has a payload of only 200lbs
    MULE is quieter
    MULE is capable of in situ resource utilization simplifying logistics
    MULE is capable of doubling as a food source.
    MULE's per unit cost is .01% of LS3 technology.

    FARPA is also working on a more advanced project known as DONKEY, that will have self replicating abilities. Unfortunately this project is still in the early development stages.

    When asked about the cost discrepancy between the $5,000,000,000 LS3 project vs the much more cost effective $500 MULE project, Congressmen Porkbarrel, R, MA replied: "I'm sorry I cant hear you over the sound of all this bribe money"

    Here is a link to an early prototype of LS3:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?hl=en-GB&gl=NZ&v=VXJZVZFRFJc [youtube.com]

    • by turing_m (1030530)

      You don't want the DONKEY. You want an advanced recon model, the one that pairs Data Acquisition Technology with the Autonomous Sumpter System. Included of course are HUD sunglasses.

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      "Congressmen Porkbarrel, R, MA replied: "I'm sorry I cant hear you over the sound of all this bribe money""

      As a resident of Massachusetts, I'm insulted. Congressman Porkbarrel is a Democrat.

  • by estitabarnak (654060) on Friday December 21, 2012 @02:19AM (#42356821)

    "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." (Emphasis mine.)

    I know that people love sounding politically correct by arbitrarily changing "he" to "she," but in this particular case, it's not only silly but probably wrong. We've been hearing a fair amount lately about how female soldiers aren't allowed in designated combat zones, such as in this piece http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=166303415 [npr.org] In other words, "she" is statistically unlikely compared to "he," here.

    It's a funny time when we start to trade in /actual/ correctness for political correctness.

    • When she enters her battle zone, shopping malls sales, she always needs a 'mule' to carry her bags and also as cash supply unit. Therefore "hand over her rucksack to a robotic beast of burden"
    • by slimdave (710334)
      Also she'd have to hand the controls over to a male colleague if this thing needs to be backed into a tight parking spot.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's not a case of political correctness here. Part of the (largely unspoken) goal of this military project is to reduce the average mass of the soldier's gear and kit. Aside from all the obvious advantageous, it also serves to eliminate part of the physical disadvantages which most female troops have. This could eventually lead to more women in uniform and in combat positions.
      In other words, the reason for the use of 'she' is because they are thinking of women in particular when looking into battlefield ap

    • It's a funny time when we start to trade in /actual/ correctness for political correctness.

      It's not funny, it's sad. Very sad only.

  • Give that puppy three Kerberos heads and train him in Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennels. He should snarl, spit fire and rabidly foam at the mouth at soldiers' commands. Chainsaw saber-tooth fangs and Ginsu claws are a must.

    When the local yokels see the soldiers on patrol with the Hound of the Devil, it will scare the Bejesus out of them, and they will skedaddle, like their asses were on fire.

    David Blaine could ride the donkey, and perform bizarre street magic tricks that weird out the locals. The insurge

  • When asked to come up with a "headless companion to carry equipment and aid our marines when out on duty" the first suggestion was this [makefive.com]

  • by udoschuermann (158146) on Friday December 21, 2012 @07:55AM (#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.

    • 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.

      Mod parent up. This always bothers me with these kinds of stories. While the immediate usefulness of this particular project may be questionable, the long-term benefit of this type of research is potentially huge, and the best way to find the flaws and improve the technology is to put it to the test in real situations.

      DARPA and NASA (and other similar organizations) projects very often result in tons of technologies that provide huge benefits across the board. When you aim for the stars, even if you fall

  • Human history is full of headless commanders-in-chief, who will ever care about a headless mule ?!?
  • I would rather have 2 zombies with their arms and jaw removed to carry my gear.

  • and can work without a constant supply of gasoline (unlikely), would be desirable too.

  • I do not approve of such spending.... there are netter thing to spend tax payer money on. i.e. http://www.unesco.org/education/tlsf/mods/theme_a/interact/www.worldgame.org/wwwproject/index.shtml [unesco.org]

    This is a republic where all voices are heard and representiotives representing the taxpayers but how are they to know what or how to represent if the taxpayers have no voice in ho to use the taxes each personally pay?

    Open sopurce software doesn't work the way the US corrupted politicaly system does. If it did it'd b

  • From TFA:
    > 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.


    How about commands like: roll over, beg, shake hands, speak and shoot that guy over there?

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