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Meet the mule-bot

DefenseUnrest, Conflicts and WarManufacturing and EngineeringDARPAHeavy EngineeringU.S. Department of DefenseCNN (tv network)

The military's tech incubator has revealed its latest effort to perfect a robotic beast of burden.

The LS3, which has been in development since 2010, is being built to carry heavy loads for troops in the field, and the Defense Department's research and development arm has for the first time released footage of the new mule-like robot in action.

Designed to carry 400 pounds of equipment, travel up to 20 miles at a time, and move at speeds as fast as 10 mph, the LS3 is meant to fit into a Marine or Army unit in a "natural way," the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said in a news release.

"DARPA seeks to demonstrate that a LS3 can carry a considerable load from dismounted squad members, follow them through rugged terrain and interact with them in a natural way, similar to the way a trained animal and its handler interact," the release said.

The agency had previously designed a similar four-legged robot called BigDog, which demonstrated to the research group that a "legged" design would be able to handle harsh terrain.

"BigDog was about mobility. Can we have a four-legged system navigate terrain the way soldiers navigate," said Army Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, the manager of the agency's LS3 program. "We took BigDog's legs and put them on a platform three times the size and gave it eyes so that it could see its terrain."

The LS3 is smarter and stronger than its predecessor, which was able to carry only 100 pounds. Onboard sensors allow LS3 to perceive obstacles in its environment, differentiating between a rock and a tree for example, and give the robot the capability to plan a different route.

In a video released by the agency, the four-legged robot is seen following a person, navigating hilly terrain with relative ease, sidestepping over rocks and getting up from a sitting position.

The robot is also being developed to have the ability to recognize basic voice commands, like "stop," "come here," "sit," or "go over there," Hitt said.

Starting in July, the robot will go through an 18-month experimentation phase in which it will be used by various Army and Marine units in the United States.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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