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.'"