A robotic pack mule created by Google-owned Boston Dynamics has had its first ever live trial with the US Marine Corps.
The Legged Squad Support System or LS3 (also known as 'Big Dog) is a quadruped robot has been under development by the US robotics firm for more than three years, with the aim being to produce a rough-terrain robot that can carry gear for US infantry.
Google acquired Boston Dynamics in December last year, buying with it the company’s menagerie of “the most advanced robots on Earth” - the majority of which were developed with funding from America’s Department of Defense.
At the time Google said it was committed to honouring the firm’s existing contracts.
In the recent live tests conducted in the Kahuku Training Area in Hawaii, the LS3 was used to deliver water to soldiers in the field. It was given the nick-name ‘Cujo’ after the rabid dog of the same Stephen King novel and was controlled by Lance Cpl. Brandon Dieckmann, of India Company, 3rd Batallion.
“I was surprised how well it works,” said Dieckmann. “I thought it was going to be stumbling around and lose its footing, but it’s actually proven to be pretty reliable and pretty rugged. It has a bit of a problem negotiating obliques and contours of hills.”
The LS3 can be set to either automatically follow a designated soldier or manuall controlled by a gamepad (one recruit compared this to the popular video game Call of Duty). The robot can carry up to 400lbs of equipment (180kg) for distances of 20 miles over a 24-hour period and is primarily used as a logistical, not a tactical, tool due to its loud engine.
“I’d say 70 to 80 percent of the terrain we go through, it can go through,” added Dieckmann. “There are times when it is going to fall over, but most of the time it can self-right and get back up on its own.”