DARPA, Marines refine capabilities of robotic 'mule'

Defense Department and Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory researchers are refining advanced capabilities related to autonomy, maneuverability and recovery for a four-legged robot designed to haul gear for Marines on the battlefield, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said Dec. 19.

The researchers are working together at Fort Pickett, Va., to enhance the robot’s control, stability and maneuverability, DARPA said. The tests include "leader follow" decision making, enhanced roll recovery, exact foot placement over rough terrain, the ability to maneuver in an urban environment and verbal command capability.

DARPA's Legged Squad Support System (LS3) program seeks to demonstrate that a highly mobile, semi-autonomous legged robot can carry 400 lbs. of a squad’s equipment, follow squad members through rugged terrain and interact with troops in a natural way similar to a trained animal with its handler. The robot also might be able to maneuver at night and serve as a mobile auxiliary power source to the squad, which would enable troops to recharge batteries for radios and handheld devices while on patrol.

The latest round of testing features "military-relevant training conditions" in which the four-legged robot is walking in rugged, natural terrain around Fort Pickett with minimal interaction from humans, DARPA officials said. The terrain tests gave researchers a sense of how well the robot could navigate  ditches, streams, wooded slopes and simulated urban environments.

The December tests LS3 at Fort Pickett are the first in a series of demonstrations that will exhibit the robot’s capabilities across different environments as development continues for the next 18 months.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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