The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, recently performed an outdoor test of its Legged Squad Support System (LS3). The LS3, looking as though it might have escaped from the lab of an evil genius, is a four-legged autonomous vehicle designed to aid soldiers in battle by lessening their loads. Infantry soldiers typically carry between 50 and 100 pounds of gear and equipment over varied terrain for miles on end. This takes quite a toll on the soldiers and can cause them to be excessively fatigued when entering an attack, when they need all the strength and endurance they can muster. This negatively impacts the military’s operational readiness.
Quite often the soldiers are in areas without roads or trails or if roads exist they are in varied states of disrepair. Enter the LS3. Its primary objective is to serve simply as a “pack mule” for the soldiers by carrying their packs for them as they execute their mission. According to DARPA, the LS3 design goal is to carry 400 pounds across 20 miles in less than 24 hours without needing to be refueled. This matches the nominal pace an infantry unit would move at. A key differentiator the LS3 has over other designs is its four legs. These legs allow the LS3 to negotiate obstacles and cross technical terrain wheeled or tread-based vehicles cannot.
Currently the LS3 uses various sensors to “see” obstacles in its way as well as people. This is a key area of development over the 18 months design refinement and test period beginning this summer, involving the Army and Marines. DARPA wants expand the LS3’s ability to see to the point it can distinguish between individual people so that it knows exactly who it should be following. In addition, the ability to hear will be added to allow the soldiers to speak commands to it, negating the need for keyboards or touchscreens and minimizing the amount of training required to operate the LS3.
“If successful, this could provide real value to a squad while addressing the military’s concern for unburdening troops,” said Army Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, DARPA program manager. “LS3 seeks to have the responsiveness of a trained animal and the carrying capacity of a mule.”
This is not the first autonomous vehicle the military has looked at for taking the load off of troops’ backs. Lockheed Martin has the Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) purchased by the Army, which were to go to Afghanistan for trials at the end of last year.
The LS3 is being developed for DARPA by Boston Dynamics, based out of Waltham, Massachusetts.