DARPA 'Pack Mule' Robot Takes Load Off Soldiers - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

12:06 PM

DARPA 'Pack Mule' Robot Takes Load Off Soldiers

Latest Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency robot, capable of carrying 400 pounds, travels through wooded area with Marine unit and responds to verbal commands in first trial.

Defense Robots: Fast, Flexible, And Tough
Defense Robots: Fast, Flexible, And Tough
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has completed a two-week, outdoor test of a prototype robotic pack mule.

DARPA's Legged Squad Support System (LS3) is focused on solving "a real military problem, the incredible load of equipment soldiers carry," said Lt. Col. Joseph Hitt, the LS3 program manager, in a briefing on the experiment. Hitt called the test "highly successful," but said it revealed challenges that remain in the areas of perception and "robustness."

Troops are frequently loaded down with 50 pounds or more of gear, posing a risk of injury. DARPA's goal is to have LS3 carry up to 400 pounds and be capable of walking up to 20 miles under its own power, without human intervention, for up to 24 hours. The four-legged robot also can function as an auxiliary power source for recharging radios and other handheld devices.

The exercise, at Fort Pickett in Virginia, was intended to evaluate how well the LS3 could integrate with a Marine unit. It included the first tests of the robot's ability to respond to verbal commands and to operate at night. The Marine unit leader gave the robot GPS coordinates for a destination, and it was able to get there, navigating around obstacles, Hitt said.

[ For more on DARPA robots, read DARPA Demos Inexpensive, Moldable Robots. ]

Ongoing challenges with LS3's development involve mobility, perception, and human-robot interaction, but raw processing capability hasn't been an issue. "We take commercial optics and processing, stack them, and they provide all the processing power we need," Hitt said.

DARPA is developing algorithms for LS3 that assess different terrains and weather conditions and respond appropriately. The robot's perception system, its "eyes," uses a laser range-finder, specialized cameras and stereo vision to track its human leader and avoid obstacles.

The test took place in a rugged, wooded environment. LS3's next test, in March, will be in a desert, where the monotone surroundings might prove more difficult for the robot to "read." Over the next two years, the LS3 will be tested in other settings, including the mountains.

The robot's durability also will be tested. "We need to make sure the platform is robust enough to handle the abuse the Marines will give it," Hitt said. In use, the LS3 will fall over "again and again," he added.

DARPA is funding the research and development of a variety of robot form factors, including its Cheetah robot, which set a world speed record earlier this year when it sprinted at 28.3 miles per hour. The LS3 isn't nearly as fast. In a demo a few months ago, DARPA said it moves at 1 mph to 3 mph and can "accelerate" to 5 mph.

The five-year LS3 program has a budget of $54 million, part of which is funded by the Marine Corps. The LS3 will undergo field tests quarterly.

More than half of federal agencies are saving money with cloud computing, but security, compatibility, and skills present huge problems, according to our survey. Also in the Cloud Business Case issue of InformationWeek Government: President Obama's record on IT strategy is long on vision but short on results. (Free registration required.)

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

11 Things IT Professionals Wish They Knew Earlier in Their Careers
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  4/6/2021
Time to Shift Your Job Search Out of Neutral
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  3/31/2021
Does Identity Hinder Hybrid-Cloud and Multi-Cloud Adoption?
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  4/1/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
The State of Cloud Computing - Fall 2020
The State of Cloud Computing - Fall 2020
Download this report to compare how cloud usage and spending patterns have changed in 2020, and how respondents think they'll evolve over the next two years.
Current Issue
Successful Strategies for Digital Transformation
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
Flash Poll