Looking like a robotic mule, the Legged Squad Support System (LS3) being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will carry 400 pounds of equipment for US soldiers and Marines over rugged terrain inaccessible by vehicle – terrain like the mountains of Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, US soldiers and Marines can carry 50 pounds of equipment, and in some cases over 100 pounds, for long distances over difficult terrain. According to DARPA’s plan, the LS3 will be capable to carry 400 pounds of payload for 20 miles in 24 hours.
And the good news is that system can take care of itself. LS3 will be fully autonomous, able to perceive the terrain and adjust its movements accordingly. Fully loaded, the LS3 will weigh no more than 1,250 pounds.
To get the program off the ground, so to speak, DARPA recently awarded a $32 million, 30-month contract [pdf] to Boston Dynamics of Waltham, MA to develop LS3 prototypes.
Boston Dynamics’ partners on the LS3 program include Bell Helicopter, AAI Corp., Carnegie Mellon University, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Woodward HRT.
Key characteristics of the LS3 program include:
* Quadruped platform development: a deployable walking platform with sufficient payload capacity, range, endurance, and low noise signature for dismounted squad support, while keeping weight and volume scaled to the squad level.
* Walking control: control techniques that allow walking, trotting, and running/ bounding and capabilities to jump obstacles, cross ditches, recover from disturbances, and other discrete mobility features.
* User interface (to include perception technologies): the ability for the robot to perceive and traverse its immediate terrain environment autonomously with simple methods of control.
Following the initial LS3 design and build phase, DARPA and the Marine Corps will review the results and determine future program phases that may lead to full LS3 integration and experimentation with operational platforms.