DARPA – the U.S. military advance research agency, has been promoting the development of a robotic well-trained pack animal. Since 2005 the U.S. company, Boston Robotics has been working on exactly that type of solution called the ‘BigDog’. Recently a bigger, stronger and more competent version of the robot has been tested in the wild demonstrating what might be the future of military ground robots in only a few years.
For the past seven years Boston Robotics has been working hand in hand with DARPA to develop one of the most unique ground robots ever created. Moving on four legs, the headless BigDog can carry more than 300 pounds, walk nearly 13 miles on flat ground and keep its balance after getting kicked around (as seen in videos released by Boston Dynamics). BigDog was developed as an early technology demonstrator. In order to actually create a useful robot to serve on the battleground, the BigDog’s capabilities needed to be improved. Boston Dynamics developed the LS3 (after it won a DARPA contract in 2009). Introducing the “Legged Squad Support System” BigDog’s bigger and tougher sibling.
The LS3 will be able to navigate rough terrain while carrying around 400 pound of loads on its back. The LS3 could go up to 20 miles without refueling and last for 24 hours. The greatest improvement from the BigDog to the LS3 has to be that it will not need a human “driver” to operate it. It will automatically follow a human leader using advanced computer vision or use its onboard map to move to designated locations using sensors and GPS.
The LS3 is a complex and ambitious project. In order to successfully complete its goal to build a working LS3 prototype in 30 months, Boston Dynamics had to team up with the likes of Bell Helicopter, Carnegie Mellon, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and others. However all this paid off earlier this week when the company finally tested the LS3 in an outdoor environment.
In a short video released by Boston Dynamics the LS3 is shown to walk successfully in the woods, climb a hill and follow a human “leader”. One major fault still seem to exist however since the days of BigDog – noise. The BigDog as well as its larger LS3 brother uses a piston engine which seems to be extremely noisy. This will have to change before the robot can go to battle otherwise the noise will alert the enemy to the presence of the unit and blowing their cover.
TFOT covered BigDog’s development since 2007 when we brought to you a video showing the four legged behemoth being kicked by a human and not falling down. In 2009 we published a second story regarding a video of the BigDog walking on snow and other types of difficult train.
Iddo has a B.A. in Philosophy and Cognitive Science and an M.A. in Philosophy of Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is currently writing his Ph.D. thesis on the relationship between the scientific community and industry. Iddo was awarded the 2006 Bar Hillel philosophy of science prize for his work on the relationship between science and technology. He is a member of the board of the lifeboat foundation and was the editor of several high-profile science and technology websites since 1999.