Onlookers were surprised and gasped in awe at the spindly-legged creature moving at a steady pace along McNair Road last week on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington. It looked like something from the future. Closer observation revealed it’s movements were obviously mechanical and not animal-like. But there’s no need for alarm, no reason to call the military police.
The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Boston Dynamic were testing an autonomous robot called the Legged Squad Support System or LS3. Today’s Marines and soldiers are required to carry more than 100 pounds of gear, ammunition, food and equipment on the battlefield. Imagine how much more efficient America’s fighting men could be if they carried a lighter load. They would be stronger, have more energy and be more alert mentally, enabling them to fully concentrate on the movements and capabilities of the enemy.
The LS3 is designed to help Marines and soldiers work smarter not harder by carrying their gear to lighten their load. Marc Raibert of the LS3 group with Boston Dynamics said, “Half of the earth is inaccessible to wheeled and tracked vehicles. People and animals, using their legs can go almost anywhere. The idea behind this robot is to have a robot that can go anywhere on earth. He explained LS3 can go off-terrain in the woods, on rocks, in snow and in water. “It can go where you can go with your legs but where wheeled vehicles have a hard time,” he said.
The demonstration on McNair Road showed how the LS3 is given directions from a leader and rapidly processes the information to follow the directions. It does not need to be driven, because the robot follows the leader using computer vision or travels to designated locations using its GPS capability. During the demonstration LS3 climbed muddy hills, crossed the road and even “ran” through a field at seven mph speed. Even after it was placed in an overturned position, the robot righted itself and continued on the designated mission. According to the Quantico Marine Corps Base Public Affairs Office LS3’s head is made up of three levels of sensors responsible for tracking its leader and objects as far out as 30 meters.
The LS3’s body is made up of the engine and cooling fans and the main cargo areas. Under the body are four hydraulic-powered legs. It can carry up to 400 pounds while traveling up to 20 miles and operate for 24 hours. The exhibition in Arlington ended Phase 1 of three phases in LS3’s development. The next 24 months of testing will focus on refining sensors and the interaction between the robot and it’s leaders.