Robotics

DARPA LS3 quadruped plays follow the leader through mud puddles and more

DARPA LS3 quadruped plays foll...
No worse for wear, DARPA's LS3 lands in a mud puddle during a training exercise from the fall, 2012
No worse for wear, DARPA's LS3 lands in a mud puddle during a training exercise from the fall, 2012
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DARPA and Boston Dynamics' robotic pack mule, the LS3, is designed to follow soldiers wherever they may go
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DARPA and Boston Dynamics' robotic pack mule, the LS3, is designed to follow soldiers wherever they may go
A concept illustration from Boston Dynamics shows what the LS3 may look like in the future
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A concept illustration from Boston Dynamics shows what the LS3 may look like in the future
The LS3 quadruped has a barrel-shaped body which allows it to right itself if it falls onto its back or sides
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The LS3 quadruped has a barrel-shaped body which allows it to right itself if it falls onto its back or sides
Boston Dynamics' LS3 quadruped follows a soldier through a tight corridor during a training exercise
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Boston Dynamics' LS3 quadruped follows a soldier through a tight corridor during a training exercise
The LS3 follows a soldier through the woods during a training exercise
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The LS3 follows a soldier through the woods during a training exercise
The LS3 quadruped's sensors give it a detailed real-time view of its surroundings, allowing it to navigate densely packed foliage
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The LS3 quadruped's sensors give it a detailed real-time view of its surroundings, allowing it to navigate densely packed foliage
DARPA's robotic pack mule takes a stumble, but rolls back onto its feet moments later thanks to its barrel-shaped body
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DARPA's robotic pack mule takes a stumble, but rolls back onto its feet moments later thanks to its barrel-shaped body
No worse for wear, DARPA's LS3 lands in a mud puddle during a training exercise from the fall, 2012
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No worse for wear, DARPA's LS3 lands in a mud puddle during a training exercise from the fall, 2012
Boston Dynamics' quadruped steps over a log as it follows a soldier a few meters ahead of it
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Boston Dynamics' quadruped steps over a log as it follows a soldier a few meters ahead of it
DARPA's quadruped robot can trot at up to 7 miles per hour in more structured environments, like this mock urban area
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DARPA's quadruped robot can trot at up to 7 miles per hour in more structured environments, like this mock urban area

DARPA's robotic pack mule, the Legged Squad Support System (or LS3 for short) is now following orders and its master, going where no robot has gone before. In a recently published video, the impressive quadruped robot developed by Boston Dynamics climbs up and down hills, scrambles over logs, bobs and weaves through woods, and even takes an impromptu dip in a bog. Once outside the obstacle-ridden forest the LS3 picks up the pace with a somewhat inelegant gallop that betrays its mechanical nature.

Boston Dynamics' founder, Marc Raibert, has been described as the rock star of the robotics world. He made a name for himself at MIT, where he worked on some pretty amazing legged robots – some of which appeared in the background of a scene in the film adaptation of Michael Crichton's Rising Sun. Now his company is working on the follow-up to BigDog, a robot which hardly requires an introduction after its videos went viral a few years back.

According to DARPA "the Army has identified physical overburden as one of its top five science and technology challenges". Enter the LS3, nicknamed AlphaDog, designed to carry a squad's 400 pounds (181 kg) of gear for up to 20 miles (32 km) without stopping.

The LS3 produces ten times less noise than BigDog and features some other tweaks - like a barrel-shaped body - which allows it to easily roll over should it fall on its back or side. You can see just how effective this is in the latest video, when it accidentally stumbles and rolls down the side of a hill. It even lands on its feet despite falling into a fairly deep mud puddle.

Other improvements are demonstrated as well; it understands specific verbal commands and hand gestures, allowing soldiers to order the robot around in various situations. Its sensors also allow it to follow a leader even through a fairly dense, obstacle-ridden environment. A brief section in the video shows us the world from its perspective – a blocky facsimile similar to that of Google's driverless cars – which is accurate enough for the LS3 to find its way through the foliage. DARPA says it's smart enough to find its way to a designated GPS coordinate.

The LS3 quadruped's sensors give it a detailed real-time view of its surroundings, allowing it to navigate densely packed foliage
The LS3 quadruped's sensors give it a detailed real-time view of its surroundings, allowing it to navigate densely packed foliage

In more structured environments like urban areas, the LS3 is able to move much more quickly, revving up to a solid 7 mph (11.2 kph) trot. And despite relatively tight corridors, it knows when it can squeeze in with little room to spare. It's currently being tested at a military base, but next year it'll join a squad as part of the Marine Corps Advanced Warfighting Experiment.

If you're wondering how Marc Raibert earned his rock star status, let the following video speak for itself.

Source: DARPA via IEEE Spectrum

LS3 Follow Tight

17 comments
jaqen
I wonder how long it will take for the enemy to learn to yell "LS3 power down!" or something even more sinister ("LS3 trample your master!")
Daishi
I am always a naysayer when it comes to robots with legs. I see millions of dollars in development and a lot of complexity. Is this something a 17 year old former D student can repair in the field with minimal replacement parts in 3rd word country? I see a task that an ATV could perform for 1/100th of the cost with better reliability and cheaper/more available replacement parts.
thk
Until it meets an early IED.
Derek Howe
RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN!!! YOU HAVE FAT ASS ROBO HIPPO CHASING YOU MAN!!!!
Mark A
All I ask of it is to identify the poison oak.
Slowburn
re; Diachi Walkers can go places that a wheeled vehicle can not. The reverse is not true. The four legs appear to be identical and you could use the same actuators at all the joints and such to limit the number of different parts. For the most part soldiers get jobs that suit their abilities and the best mechanic I ever met never got a grade better than a C- in his life.
Siegfried Gust
Impressive, it's far more nimble than I would have expected. I think the ground contact surfaces will need to be improved thought to deal with different type of ground. As it is I think it would struggle with soft and slippery terrain.
Joaquin Colgao
I don´t understand why this piece of crap would be any better than a real ass or mule. The best part is that a flesh and blood mule can feed itself and has all the built in intelligence required to climb steep hills, ford rivers, avoid obstacles and follow a leader. In addition, it is waterproof, you can butcher it to feed a hungry platoon and costs peanuts compared to this contraption. I suppose the big advantage is that they can plug it in to the moon when it runs out of battery.
Ptodd
Hmmm - I seem to remember a wonderful quadruped capable of such feats...what was it called?...Oh yeah - a horse. How reliable and resilient will this be under fire? Any better than a horse? Besides - a horse can't be hacked or disabled by an EMP.
Slowburn
The number of mules that died during the Burma campaign in WWII is appalling this won't die of bug bites in three months. This won't panic when it gets dinged or runs into something unfamiliar.