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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Military puts robot pack dogs in long-term storage

The Legged Squad Support System (LS3) was a project of the Pentagon's research division known as Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
 

The original idea was to develop a legged robot that could function as a packhorse for a squad of soldiers or marines. The whole idea invited spoofs as in this YouTube video that was posted in 2008 and has over 5 million views. This is supposed to be a test version of Big Dog, the name sometimes given to the LS3 from the first stage of the project.

The real robot Big Dog took years to develop and was called Cujo by the marines, or sometimes referred to as the robotic mule for its carrying functions. The project was jointly operated by DARPA and Google's Boston Dynamics. Big Dog could speed along at 4 miles per hour, climb slopes up to 35 degrees, walk across rubble, walk in snow or water, and carry a load of 340 lbs or more. The first contract was for two-and-a-half years at a cost of $32 million.The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab was also involved in the project. A second contract for $10 million was awarded in 2013 that would involve demonstrating how Cujo would operate in rugged terrain carrying a load and carry out verbal and visual commands. Testing is shown in the video below.
As can be heard on the video, Cujo is noisy. Marines were concerned that the loud noise would give away their position. There were other problems. If the robot broke down, there was no easy way to have it repaired in the field. To solve the noise problem a smaller version of the robot was built with an electric motor. This version was nicknamed Spot.
While Spot was quiet it was not very useful for carrying equipment, as the maximum weight it could carry was about 40 pounds. It also had a limited range before it needed to be recharged. Spot, weighs about 160 pounds. Spot's operator has wireless controls that work up to a distance of about a third of a mile, using a laptop with a radio transmitter and controller. Spot could possibly serve as a ground reconnaissance asset according to Capt. James Pineiro, of the Warfighting Lab. However, as presently developed Spot did not have enough autonomy to even do that well. While the appended video shows several of the robots hooked up to a Santa's sleigh, so far the Pentagon has put out the robots to pasture and has not offered Boston Dynamics or DARPA any Christmas present of an additional contract to develop the program further.


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