Marine Corps says goodbye to robot mule

Marine Corps says goodbye to robot mule

By eeNews Europe

Built by Google-owned Boston Dynamics (Waltham, MA), the semi-autonomous four-legged robot was seen as a possible solution for reducing troops’ loads as well as providing mobile power. It could carry up to 400 lbs (180 kg) of gear and supplies for 24 hours straight over 20 miles of rough terrain.

Extensive field testing with the Marine Corps however uncovered some shortcomings. For example, the LS3’s gas-powered engine was noisy, making it unsuited for stealth missions.

According to spokesperson Kyle Olson of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, "As Marines were using it, there was the challenge of seeing the potential possibility because of the limitations of the robot itself. They took it as it was: a loud robot that’s going to give away their position."

A smaller, quieter electrically-powered robotic unit – dubbed "Spot" – was subsequently developed that addressed this concern. However, with a load carrying capability only a tenth that of the LS3 it did not meet the needs of the Marines, nor did it feature some of the LS3’s advanced autonomous capabilities. In addition, other remaining issues included how to repair such robots in the field, and integrating them with traditional patrol units.

While LS3 may be shelved, the Marine Corps says it has gained "important insights" into such technology and continues to recognize "the necessity for autonomous, unmanned, and robotic capabilities." As a result, it is continuing to experiment with drones and unmanned vehicles to explore new capabilities in areas such as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and medical supply.

Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory
Boston Dynamics

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