Monday, December 28, 2015

Marines' Robot Mule Is Too Loud For War

LS3 Robot At RIMPAC Exercises

Sarah Dietz, U.S. Marine Corps, via Wikimedia Commons

LS3 Robot At RIMPAC Exercises

War is heavy. Not, just, in the deep moral implications of organized violence, but also very literally, in that fighting a war takes a lot of heavy equipment. To help lighten the load, the United States Marine Corp looked to the future: a robotic mule, capable of carrying 400 pounds of gear. After years of development and a couple high-profile trials, the Marines are abandoning the machine. Listen closely and you can hear why:

Video of DARPA Legged Squad Support System (LS3) Demonstrates New Capabilities

The robot is built by the Alphabet-owned Boston Dynamics. It was developed for DARPA under the name LS3, or "Legged Squad Support System", and it can climb hills, carry weight, and follow humans into battle. It just can't do it quietly. Rather than aiding Marines in battle, that noise turns the mechanical mule into a dead (and deadly) giveaway.


[Testing] exhibited the shortcomings of the prototype, Kyle Olson, a spokesman for the Warfighting Lab, told

"As Marines were using it, there was the challenge of seeing the potential possibility because of the limitations of the robot itself," Olson said. "They took it as it was: a loud robot that's going to give away their position."

In addition to the lawnmower-like noise of the mule's gas-powered engine, there were other challenges without clear solutions, including how to repair the hulking robot if it breaks and how to integrate it into a traditional Marine patrol.

For a military that wants to dramatically increase its robotic soldiers by 2030, this is a setback, but not an insurmountable one. Next time the military asks for a legged squad support system, it should make sure it asks for a legged silent squad support system.

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