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The Military Robotics

Robot Mule Put Out To Pasture By Marine Corps (nbcnews.com) 153

An anonymous reader sends word that the Marines have decided that Boston Dynamics' robotic pack mules are too noisy to use. NBC reports: The massive robotic mule developed by Alphabet-owned Boston Dynamics won't see combat with U.S. Marines. LS3 (Legged Squad Support Systems) was meant to carry cargo for weary soldiers in the field. Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the robot was capable of walking with 400 pounds of equipment on its back. LS3 could run for 24 hours straight on a 20-mile mission across rough terrain. No controller was needed; it took visual and verbal cues from soldiers to find its way. So why doesn't the Marine Corps want to use it? The robot's gas-powered engine isn't exactly the stealthiest piece of technology.
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Robot Mule Put Out To Pasture By Marine Corps

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Goat [google.com]

    Thank you.

  • The "article" such that it is, is not much longer than the Slashdot "summary". Any chance of some editorial work on these "stories"? More linkies?

  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @04:42PM (#51204531)
    It's good to know that $30 million dollars is only good to imitate Santa's reindeer [youtube.com].
  • by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @04:47PM (#51204565)

    Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the robot was capable of walking with 400 pounds of equipment on its back. LS3 could run for 24 hours straight on a 20-mile mission across rough terrain.

    20 miles for 24h with 400 pounds of weight? Sorry, but those specs don't sound all that great compared to a real mule or pack horse.

    • While watching the video I thought this looks just like a horse. Even the feet (hooves) looked identical. So to your point, why not bring a horse or two to pack the gear. Just let it go or shoot it and make burgers once the mission is complete.

      • Something never considered or shown in movies or RPGs: horses require a lot of food if they're going to be working; essentially all the weight they would be carrying in equipment would need to be oats and hay instead. They can't graze to get enough energy if they're working hard; grass and twigs just don't have enough calories. The MULE runs on something the military handles in its current supply chains: gasoline. Bioengineer a horse that can eat MREs and you'll have a quiet (but smelly) alternative to t
        • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @07:30PM (#51205537)

          Bioengineer a horse that can eat MREs and you'll have a quiet (but smelly) alternative to this robot.

          No need to bioengineer, nature has already provided such horses. "She was fond of a wide variety of foodstuffs, entertaining the platoon by eating scrambled eggs and drinking Coca-Cola and beer. Food could not be left unattended around her. She was known to eat bacon, buttered toast, chocolate bars, hard candy, shredded wheat, peanut butter sandwiches and mashed potatoes."
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Quite simply the mule no longer serves a purpose. The modern front line military persons chief role will be the intelligent application of close range drone weapons. The soldier will peak from around corners and behind walls, as they direct aerial mines at each other, exploding glide capable (required for range), quad copter drones, launched in close support and a design rate of one per enemy combatant (the more you make the cheaper they become). Launched from the air and ground in mass numbers each soldie

          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            Quite simply the mule no longer serves a purpose.

            I am not sure which mule you speak of - living or robotic. I linked this above so you'll probably not see it:
            http://olive-drab.com/od_army-... [olive-drab.com]

            The US military still uses animals for carrying stuff and for transportation - they've done so fairly recently. Google has a bunch of other information - if you're curious.

          • The [payloads], come in by the truck load, or a large cargo plane release them at altitude behind lines...

            Sorry, but you seem to have entirely missed the original point of this robo-mule, which was that there are mission areas that are not truck-accessible and in which the enemy has anti-air capabilities that make large cargo plane drops impractical and dangerous. That class of mission area hasn't gone away, it's simply that the mission isn't helped by a running lawn-mower engine alerting all the enemies that you're trying to drag in a bunch of heavy equipment. Probably this class of mission will now be servic

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          At risk of being pedantic, you're not absolutely correct. If the mule (or horse) was limited and could *only* carry it's own food then they'd have not used them for years and years as a pack animal. I forget which episode it is but either War on the Eastern Front or Soviet Storm gets into some of the math and it's viable to use a mule or horse for a period of time that's longer than this thing runs on batteries and the number of batteries that it can carry.

          Is there a finite time that the animal can maintain

      • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

        While watching the video I thought this looks just like a horse. Even the feet (hooves) looked identical. So to your point, why not bring a horse or two to pack the gear. Just let it go or shoot it and make burgers once the mission is complete.

        Horses require a lot of care and feeding. You can keep the mechanical mules in a warehouse until needed, parachute them in, then let them sit in a pile for a few weeks until ready to use them, then just gas them up and go, any time day or night.

        Horses need infrastructure and logistics to house, water, and feed them.

    • Doesn't fill the coffers of the defense industry.

    • www.google.com

      "In general, a mule can be packed with "dead weight" of up to 20% of its body weight, or approximately 90 kg (198 lb). The average equine in general can carry up to approximately 30% of its body weight in "live" weight, such as a rider."

      On top of that considering a mule can be frightened by explosions and other combat conditions, and you need to potentially worry about food/water/shelter versus cramming a robo-mule into a crate at a warehouse when you're done with it.

      • You could feed a lot of donkeys for $32 million dollars. Their barns are probably cheaper than the warehouses this LS3 would be stored in, too. http://spectrum.ieee.org/autom... [ieee.org]
        • Yes, bfpierce could feed a lot of donkeys for that price, and so could you or I. However, for that price, we cannot easily keep a small number of highly-trained donkeys on the other side of the planet well-fed and well-rested and capable of reliably hauling the necessary loads in a battlefield environment and operating to military standards.

    • Good luck getting a mule to march for 24 hours straight.

      • Good luck getting a mule to march for 24 hours straight.

        Horses can be more reliable. "... in a single day, she made 51 solo trips to resupply multiple front line units. She was wounded in combat twice ..."
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        • That's an exceptional horse, do you have a way to clone her?

          • That's an exceptional horse, do you have a way to clone her?

            Like human Marines cloning is not necessary. Just careful selection from the overall population. :-)

            • You'll find more human beings capable of being marines than horses with the qualities that you need. That's why I used the word exceptional.

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @05:36PM (#51204857) Homepage Journal

      Well, the US Army used mules regularly until 1957, and they're still used occasionally in special operations. The Marine Corps still conducts training in handling pack animals at it's mountain warfare training center.

      Pack animals do make sense in limited situations, and mules are superior to horses in those situations because they require less and lower quality feed.

      • Do mules make 51 supply runs under fire and without a handler in a single day, carrying out wounded on the return leg. Horses have. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
        • A horse has.

          FTFY.

          While that's a cool fact, do you have any data to suggest that many horses can do this (and that mules can't)? I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that your example is an exception rather than the rule.

          • While mules are well known to be more sure footed, more resilient to heat, and less prone to disease and injury they are also known to be less reliable under fire. That horses have more "bravery", allowing them to not only be used as pack animals but reliable partners in battle even in the age of gunpowder. While this particular horse's exploits are exemplary, as are the actions of many recognized heroes, it is in the nature of horses that such examples arise.
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      The Marines would have to put up with a lot of horse shit. But maybe they're used to that.
    • A robot has the advantage of not needing breaks or feeding. Plus it would be much easier to transport to where it was needed. Just crate it up and put it on the transport. And when not in use the robot can be placed into storage while a mule or horse still needs to be taken care of.

    • Wouldn't a mini-tank style design (with treads) work just fine for most applications? Make it semi-autonomous so it can follow soldiers around or be sent to destinations, could probably manage a heavier payload (because it doesn't need to balance) which means more fuel (greater range) and more applications. Could be used to carry wounded soldiers, etc. Also probably much quieter. The whole thing could be roughly snowmobile-sized.

      Seems like having legs provides limited advantages when combined with the disad

  • by halfdan the black ( 638018 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @04:53PM (#51204595)
    I mean, seriously, its NOT THAT HARD to quiet an engine, they've been making diesels on subs quiet for 100 years now. Literally all you need is a better muffler, and add some sound proofing covering around the engine, maybe adds 10lbs at most.

    Or, better yet, go with a small gas turbine, they're nearly silent, especially with a muffler, and can burn just about anything, diesel, gas, kerosene, you name it.

    That's pretty damned idiotic throwing away a $30 million program because you didn't want to spend another few $100 on a muffler and some padding.
    • Honda generators are very quiet and extremely well-engineered. A favorite among the RV crowd.

      http://powerequipment.honda.co... [honda.com]

      Maybe Boston Dynamics engineers should get one of these and do some reverse-engineering.

    • by Shinobi ( 19308 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @05:08PM (#51204683)

      Stealth isn't only about sound, it's also about visual signature, heat output etc.

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        TFS and TFA mention only sound (And multiple times), yet never mention heat. But somehow you infer that they didn't mean that it was loud, but that it was big and hot.
        • by Megol ( 3135005 )

          *Sigh*

          He didn't - try to read what people actually write. He stated that stealth isn't just sound and that is 100% correct.

          • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
            TFA didn't say it wasn't stealthy, TFA said it was too loud. It looks like TFS was summarized and interpreted from the article, as "stealth" wasn't mentioned in TFA. But even TFS said the *engine* wasn't stealthy, not the unit. Your reading comprehension is poor. There is no logical implication in TFS or TFA that the unit is too large, and no mention of hear in either TFA or TFS. TFA explicitly lists an issue with sound.

            Arguing about "stealth" as an abstract issue when the only identified issue with t
    • Certainly you could muffle the engine on that robot... with about 100 extra pounds of muffling gear that by the way will add to the size of the thing. Oh, and it has to be serviceable/repairable in the field.

      As sibling said, it's also about the size of the thing, not to mention that a human can more easily move without being seen than a large and mechanized thing the approximate size of a horse (minus a head).

      • A better muffler and some sound padding weighs maybe 10 lbs, the muffler on my Jetta Diesel weighs less than 10 lbs.
    • by MikeMo ( 521697 )
      Submarine diesels are not quiet at all. They're not meant to be, as they're only used in emergencies, on the surface or at periscope depth. In fact, they're quite loud, requiring ear protection for operators.
      • Yeah, the engine's themselves are loud when you're in the engine room, but the motor mounts are designed to isolate any vibration from the hull, the engine room is designed with all sorts vibration isolation and sound proofing. None of this is very technical or difficult. Like a previous post said, look how quite Honda generators are, you can barely hear them running, and all it took was some good motor mounts, a good muffler, and if you ever take one apart, you'll see Honda engines have double layer valve
    • That's pretty damned idiotic throwing away a $30 million program because you didn't want to spend another few $100 on a muffler and some padding.

      The technology isn't being thrown away. Boston Dynamics is a private company that does other things than just work for the military.

      Literally all you need is a better muffler, and add some sound proofing covering around the engine, maybe adds 10lbs at most.

      Then don't forget to add to mass manufacturing, technician training, water proofing, dust proofing, night-vision, river crossing, heat masking, rapid deployment/transportation, people carrying, part replacements, bulletproofing (to a degree), redundancy-systems, possible malfunctions, etc.

      It's a huge commitment to mass manufacture and deploy new technology like this. I am glad

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's pretty idiotic spending $30 million to replace a cheap, working technology like actual mules.

    • I assumed it was to maintain a high enough power-to-weight ratio.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @04:54PM (#51204599) Homepage
    Maybe stealth should be reconsidered when applied to robotics. Other applications should be considered. For example, imagine 230 of these robots, each as noisy as a lawnmower and as terrifying as war itself, charging over a hillside in bevis and butthead masks. And as a peacekeeping force they would be unsurpassed! either keep the peace, or we send these things back around christmas decked in flashing lights and dressed as bea arthur.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      LS3 could run for 24 hours straight on a 20-mile mission across rough terrain.

      So this thing averages 0.833 mph in rough terrain. For context, the giant galapagos tortoise can move at speeds ranging from 0.23mph to 1mph.

      Now imagine 230 galapagos tortoises, each as noisy as a lawnmower and as terrifying as war itself, charging over a hillside in beavis and butthead masks.

      • rough terrain, as in rocky and steep. I doubt the tortoise could manage much faster. I doubt the humans are moving much faster on the rough terrain they are speaking of.

        BigDog runs at 4 mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rubble, climbs muddy hiking trails, walks in snow and water, and carries 340 lb load.

        http://www.bostondynamics.com/... [bostondynamics.com]

        • I guess that is the wrong robot, but if the Marines don't like the LS3, why not go with big dog, they are roughly equivalent.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The idea is not bad, but not thought to the end: Imagine a thousand or ten thousand of those things with some kevlar in front of them and an automated shooting gun on top charging through an area where an enemy force is assumed to be. It's a zerg rush with guns, automatically targetting anything of a certain temperature and pulse, or where a enemy shot came from.
      You probably could even deploy them from air, have them organise themselves and then start to charge.

      Stealth won't matter. Lives lost on your side

  • by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @05:01PM (#51204647) Homepage Journal
    damn thing kept getting spooked by lightning storms and running off with all my Smithore
  • So they basically said they don't want it because they would use it in a manner that it wasn't designed for. Maybe if you mentioned that stealth was a requirement WHILE THEY WERE BUILDING IT you could have avoided millions of dollars in wasted tax money, and millions of dollars in wasted man-hours.
  • I remember watching Boston Dynamic's BigDog demonstration, and being thoroughly impressed by the robot's ability to maintain balance and regain footing when kicked or slipping on ice [youtu.be]. That said, the video also demonstrated exactly the Marine's concern, but I thought that they'd be able to reduce hardware requirements and increase battery efficiency to the point of overcoming the gas engine requirement. I guess that battery efficiency (and requisite durability) just hasn't gotten to that point yet, or gasoli

    • >> I thought that they'd...overcom(e) the gas engine requirement

      Why make changes? The check cleared. I guess that's what we get for watching the demo with the sound off.

    • This was the first working version that they created. Remember the first computers were the size of a room and not very fast.

      The problem is they need a market for this in order to refine it and make the necessary modifications.

    • First, it's easy to opportunistically refuel a gasoline powered engine. And fast.

      Not so much with batteries.

      As well, the energy density of Li-on batteries is very low compared to gasoline (44.4 mj/kg for gasversus .36-.875 mj/kg for battery).

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      Consider that the battery pack on a Tesla S comes in at 1,200 pounds or so:
      https://my.teslamotors.com/for... [teslamotors.com]

      That's for about 250 miles of travel.

      Gasoline weights about 8.3 pounds per gallon. The equivalent weight results in 144.58 gall

      • by Megol ( 3135005 )

        Fuel cells?

      • the energy density of Li-on batteries is very low compared to gasoline (44.4 mj/kg for gasversus .36-.875 mj/kg for battery).

        This is a nonsense comparison, based on theoretical numbers which conveniently ignore the very low efficiency of converting gasoline into movement, and the substantial weight, maintenance, etc., required to do so.

        If you compare complete systems, like yard equipment, automobiles, etc., it's easy to see that batteries are (at worst) within an order of magnitude of the capabilities of ga

    • They probably don't want to rely solely on batteries because it would take a long time to recharge. Fuel cells might provide a solution in that it could be easily recharged. It wouldn't be good to get halfway through a trip, have the batteries run dry, and then need to wait for them to recharge.

  • Not News: Robotics company doesnt know how to make internal combustion engines.

    There are dozens of ways that automotive engineers over the years have decreased the decibel output of internal combustion engines.
    None of these improvements go into generators. Ive watch some youtube videos of the 'Mules' and it looks like a robot with a generator on its back.

    They're probably using generators because noise was never a stipulation in the design parameters. What a bunch of idiots. Cancel a program because
    it does s

    • Those small Honda inverter gensets barely purr, but they likely need a better power to weight ratio. So basically it's waiting for a better power source... Paging Mr. Stark?

  • Any mission where this would make sense, it seems that a Hummv would fill the same role. If you want something for patrols or other missions that require silence then it's going to have to be battery operated and I doubt the storage density is high enough to make that work yet.
  • Quiet is relative, even soundproofed might be too loud. Sounds like a complicated, expensive piece of equipment. When lives matter do you really want to bet your life on a mechanical donkey? What sort of missions are they running anyway? We can bomb you from halfway across the world without landing. If this if for some sort of elite mission, use tier one elite soldiers who can carry their weight. Why not dogs? Or carts? Why not just have robot marines in the first place? Easiest solution I see is to train s
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Alternate uses for the technology.

    1. A bomb that can wait near an expected target site, then run over and detonate when commanded to. Basically, a drone that can hide in the bushes.

    2. An military-grade electrical generator or hardware hauler that can simplify setting up a forward base with limited access. Alternately, a civilian-grade heavy generator that can be walked into areas with limited access.

    3. Military swarm-scare-monster, as described somewhere above in the comments. It could be sent into caves t

    • 1.) Judging from the complaints about its lack of stealthiness, I doubt its going to hide in the bushes. Have they considered an electric motor? Probably doesn't work for the same reason the electric car hasn't overtaken the automobile market yet: the inconvenience of needing a large enough battery and a place to charge it. But as the technology matures, they can revisit this. I like the rest of your ideas though.
  • The first time I saw the "Big Dog" as it was called back in the early days (2008?), I made that comment immediately. It's a remarkable piece of robotics, but it can't be used on a mission. The enemy would hear you coming from miles away. So what is the point? The device doesn't fit the application.

    And now, 7 years later they finally figure that out. Wow!

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      It was a research project. I'm sure they never intended it to be something that would be deployed yet, so there was no reason to make it stealthy.
    • by Megol ( 3135005 )

      How smart you must be! Too bad that this didn't work out but that is common for military use of civil technology, otherwise a modern army could make use of cars or that thing the British invented for WW I but were much to loud to be of any use - the so called tank.

      Really... This thing was created as a way to transport goods in places where humans can go but not traditional vehicles. Do you really think stealth is the most important factor in all situations? If so read my in-jest text above until your brain

  • While I don't see Fuel Cells as being very viable for Cars compared to a Lithium Battery, they might serve a good application in this place considering now you neither care about the cost of fuel (or excess CO2 emissions) but the fact that it is silent technology. The downside is you would still need to carry around bottles of Hydrogen Fuel which is explosive although probably not much worse than ammunition or fuel. And while admittedly tanks aren't exactly silent, they do have a point if this is suppose

  • How are we going to colonize the planet Irata now?
  • God damn you idiots. Make it electrical and just have 3 soldiers carry the battery.

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