News: Marines operate robotic "pack mule"
by Lance Cpl. Clayton Filipowicz
FORT DEVENS, Mass. - Infantrymen operated a four-legged robot designed to help carry fighting loads on the battlefield during testing Nov. 6 at Fort Devens, Mass.
After a quick class to learn about the Legged Squad Support System’s controls and wearable sensors, the Marines went walking with the robot, which can either follow the operator or proceed in a programmed line of travel.
“At first I thought it was going to be really complicated to operate, but it turned out to be really simple,” said Pfc. Marcus Beedle, a rifleman serving with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.
Created by Boston Dynamics, the robot is designed to reduce the load Marines haul on their backs without interfering with the team’s mission.
“It’s basically a robotic pack mule,” said Kevin Blankespoor, chief engineer of the LS3 project. “The goal of this machine is go to where the warfighter goes while carrying their load.”
The 1,300-pound robot is equipped with three joints on each leg to provide optimal mobility, and inside the body is a single-cylinder, four-stroke gasoline engine.
Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory created the control and computation sensors, which track two black strips on the back of the operator and recognize terrain like rocks, trees and bushes. The robot can decide whether to continue through an obstacle or walk around it.
The Marines gave feedback to the robot’s development team, whose members said the robot has undergone drastic improvements since its beginning, and engineers are already working on improvements to mobility, stealth, and protection.
Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Killea, Marine Corps Warfighting Lab commanding general, said that the Marines testing the robot saw its value.
“If you ask them if they want 400 pounds off their backs, I think they’d be in agreement with that, whether that’s ammunition or supplies,” said Killea. “We feel like it’s going to get there. The technology has come a long way.”