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The Military Technology

DARPA's Headless Robotic Mule Takes Load Off Warfighters 210

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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  • 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?
  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:54AM (#42357665)

    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 applications.

  • 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

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer