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DARPA seeks bigger BigDog petrol packmule robots

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Pentagon tech brainiacs are moving forward with their plans to furnish US troops with petrol-powered robotic pack mules to carry their heavy equipment and supplies.

DARPA, the famed military loopytech agency which stands head and shoulders above the rest principally through the use of Inspector Gadget telescoping cybernetic legs, has now announced that it wants a "Legged Squad Support System" (LS3).

LS3 will be:

A legged vehicle capable of maneuvering nimbly among dismounted troops in complex terrain... and operating quietly as required. The program will, at a minimum, deliver two prototypes which will be able to follow soldiers among other troops and clutter, with zero burden on the system operator to provide command signals.

DARPA, of course, already has the famous "BigDog" motor-mule robot, seen in this corporate vid courtesy of YouTube:

But the BigDog, according to makers Boston Dynamics, carries only 340lb and can move at only 4mph. LS3 will be required to hump an extra 60lb of gear, and be able to sprint at 10mph. It will also have to track five squad members and move with them, without getting in their way or trampling them. The new, enhanced BigDog will also need to have a 40-decibel "quiet mode" - that's just twice as noisy as a watch ticking, half as noisy as a dishwasher in the next room.

It seems a racing cert that Boston Dynamics will in fact win DARPA's LS3 funding, as the proposal (Word doc) seems to have been tailor made for a bigger, better BigDog. It even specifies BigDog's most famous feature, "stability despite lateral disturbance (kick)".

LS3/BiggerDog will be able to accompany US footsoldiers anywhere they might wish to go, according to DARPA, allowing a squad to carry all kinds of stuff they would normally find prohibitively heavy - even when moving dismounted from vehicles. Examples given are "heavy weapons and equipment including mortars, ladders, and forced entry". BiggerDogs "will give a squad platoon capabilities", it says here.

That may be. Or it might simply enable a squad to actually carry all the stuff it's already supposed to. Even now, without even getting into entry gear or mortars, a single soldier can be loaded up to the limit without even trying. Three days' rations and bivouac gear, weapons and ammo, optics, body armour, comms, batteries, maybe wearable computing of some kind and you'll normally have loaded a squad to the point of needing a BigDog already.

Perhaps, as DARPA suggests, the solution is motorised packmules. There will no doubt be a certain number of old-school purists who'd suggest simply having less stuff. ®

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