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Boston Dynamics Wins Darpa Contract To Develop LS3 Robot Mule (It's a Bigger BigDog)

This robot mule will be able to navigate rough terrain, carrying 180 kilograms of soldier gear -- no driver required

1 min read
Boston Dynamics Wins Darpa Contract To Develop LS3 Robot Mule (It's a Bigger BigDog)

boston dynamics ls3

A bigger BigDog is coming.

Boston Dynamics, developer of BigDog and PETMAN, announced today that it has won a Darpa contract to develop a new robot mule to help soldiers on foot carry gear in the field.

The robot, called Legged Squad Support System, or LS3, will be able to navigate rough terrain, carrying 180 kilograms (~400 pounds) of load and enough fuel for missions covering 32 kilometers (~20 miles) and lasting 24 hours.

Boston Dynamics says LS3 won't need a driver, because it will automatically follow a human leader using computer vision or travel to designated locations using sensors and GPS.

Breeding, er, building the robot will take 30 months and cost US $32 million. The first LS3 prototype is expected to debut in 2012.

"If LS3 can offload 50 lbs [23 kg] from the back of each solider in a squad, it will reduce warfighter injuries and fatigue and increase the combat effectiveness of our troops," Marc Raibert, president of Boston Dynamics and principal investigator for the program, said in a statement.

The company, based in Waltham, Mass., is teaming up with the likes of Bell Helicopter, Carnegie Mellon, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, among others, to develop LS3.

The LS3 follows on the footsteps of BigDog, and Raibert expects the new robot to make "a major leap forward." We can't wait for the videos.

Illustration: Boston Dynamics

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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