DARPA begins testing robotic mule for battlefields

The four-legged robot would help relieve soldiers of heavy battle loads

By , IDG News Service |  Hardware, DARPA, robotics

DARPA robot

An LS3 prototype robot pictured during a September demonstration at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall

DARPA

It looks like a bull, trots at the speed of a wolf and carries equipment like a pack mule, but does it have a place on the battlefield of the future? Researchers in the U.S. are conducting a two-year study of a robot that promises to lighten the load that soldiers must carry and they gave it a high-profile demonstration in September.

The four-legged robot, developed by the U.S. government-funded Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Boston Dynamics, is part of DARPA's Legged Squad Support System (LS3) program, and is packed with technology. It's a development on Big Dog, a robot platform developed by Boston Dynamics several years ago.

As warfare gets more high-tech, soldiers are being asked to carry more gear -- as much as 45 kilograms, according to the U.S. military -- and that can slow them down, bring on injuries or hasten the onset of fatigue. So the U.S. Army and DARPA have made physical overburden an important focus of their technology research.

The new robot walks on four legs and has a fast-reacting balance system that means it won't fall over if shoved from one side -- something that most robots can't handle. If it does somehow fall, it's capable of righting itself. There are also "eyes" at the front, actually electronic sensors that constantly scan the surroundings.

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