September 12th, 2012
01:00 AM ET

The ‘mule-bot’ walks again

By Jennifer Rizzo

The military's robotic beast of burden went out this week for another stroll, demonstrating advancements in the way it moves through real-world environments.

The LS3, first revealed in February, is designed to carry heavy loads for troops in the field - up to 400 pounds worth of equipment.

In the footage released by the Defense Department's research and development arm, two of the mule-like robots can be seen navigating hilly terrain with relative ease, sidestepping rocks and getting up from a sitting position.

The new and improved version of the LS3 is roughly 10 times quieter than what was seen earlier this year and has the ability to "easily transition" between speeds ranging from 1 to 7 mph, "showing the versatility needed to accompany dismounted units in various terrains," said Army Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, a program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The robot, which is being developed to have the ability to recognize basic voice commands, such as "stop," "come here," "sit," or "go over there," is able to follow a human leader and track members of a squad in forested terrain and high brush, according to DARPA.

"The goal of the LS3 program is to demonstrate that a legged robot can unburden dismounted squad members by carrying their gear, autonomously following them through rugged terrain, and interpreting verbal and visual commands," said Hitt. "The vision for LS3 is to combine the capabilities of a pack mule with the intelligence of a trained animal."

The agency had previously designed a similar four-legged robot called BigDog, which demonstrated to the research group that a "legged" design would be able to handle harsh terrain.

"BigDog was about mobility. Can we have a four-legged system navigate terrain the way soldiers navigate," Hitt said earlier this year. "We took BigDog's legs and put them on a platform three times the size and gave it eyes so that it could see its terrain."

The LS3 is smarter and stronger than its predecessor, which was able to carry only 100 pounds.

Onboard sensors allow LS3 to perceive obstacles in its environment, differentiating between a rock and a tree for example, and give the robot the capability to plan a different route.

Testing on the robot is planned to continue for two years, at which point the LS3 will be embedded with a Marine squad.

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    October 29, 2012 at 4:31 am | Reply
  4. TinMan

    Why not just use Mules? Quieter, easier and cheaper to raise, and edible in a pinch..

    September 14, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  5. James

    That was awesome the way it recovered on the ice. If they could make these so you couldn't hear them coming it would be a great tool.

    September 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  6. DH

    Critical of DARPA, on the contrary. They have produced many advances that have made a positive difference in our lives. People want to know more about that, go to their website. This is about taking the negative and seeing the positive. As for the people mentioning going back to pack mules and horses. Right, I can see what will happen when the first IED or RPG kills one! I hate to be the one to justify this to the Human Society of America when it could have been a machine.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:55 am | Reply
  7. lasereye

    OBSERVATION: Nicely done – little noisy – let's the enemy know you're coming. Seems like an easy target that could be taken out with one shot! Seems like a misapplication for military service and our tax dollars. Looking for budget cuts?

    September 12, 2012 at 9:54 am | Reply
    • Bob

      It might be able to be taken out quickly but it would allow for soldiers to be caring less equipment in the initial important seconds of the engagment. This would allow them to move faster and be more agile in combat. Also, they would be less tired from not having to carry 50 lbs rucks up the side of a mountain. All things that would save soldiers lives and let them be more effective in combat.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Reply
      • lasereye

        Gee – I wonder how many miles it gets to a gallon – plus – who's caring the gas can?
        What happens if the robotic pack mule breaks down – is their a field mule tech?
        I admit it looks really cool – but the logistics of operation and deployment robotic pack mule will probably kill it in the end.
        Must be nice to have easy access to taxpayer dollars for this kind of half-baked ideas which are not thougt thru to practical use. I wonder what would happen in the real world if a company for profit would fund this kind of research to sell in the marketplace at a reasonable cost – where benefits and price cross each other making it feasibe? Just a thought. This kind of crap is right out of the movie "Terminator and SkyNet" – what a total waste of resources and national treasure – when this kind of money expenditure could be spend on improving life on the planet. We can do better then this!!!

        September 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
      • lasereye

        OBSERVATION: OK – so DARPA is funded with our tax dollars – they develop an idea to functional concept that works – then a too-big-to-fail corporation takes the researchs proof of concept and makes a profit. Show me how these tax dollars spent are paid back to the people as viable products? Looks like this military-industrial complex has gone wild and needs to be reigned in. It seems like if its done in the name of defense and killing people – money flows. But if its for sustaining and protecting life to create a better quality of life – to hell with it. It does not make sense – it's all insanity!

        September 12, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
  8. Homer

    Gangnam style!

    September 12, 2012 at 9:52 am | Reply
  9. Solid Snake

    METAL GEAR!!!!!!!!!

    September 12, 2012 at 9:35 am | Reply
  10. Ben

    im really hoping the things that are actually useful that DARPA is developing are secret and thats why were getting these kinds of articles...otherwise im pretty worried if this is what they're actually working on

    September 12, 2012 at 9:27 am | Reply
    • Matt

      Yeah, that internet thingy never really worked out...

      September 12, 2012 at 9:41 am | Reply
  11. Vinnie

    I love mars rovers, star trek, sci fi, etc, but what the heck is wrong with say, um, horses. They've been used for thousands of years by the military, and much cheaper and quieter. Maybe this old liberal is being conservative, but lets bring back horses if we need to move in the mountains.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:17 am | Reply
    • Rick from LA

      Mr. Ed requires more pounds of food and water, then the Mule bot needs in fuel. Also if Mule bot is shot, you can patch it up. If trigger i shot, you bury or make glue out of it.

      September 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
    • marc

      thing is horses are not bullet prof if it gets shot its down this robot could survive a fire fight

      October 1, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
  12. DH

    It's not the technology that offends people, its about the militarization of it. Granted, DARPA is part of the military system, so it is what it is. On a positive note, if this comes to fruition, it will eventually have civilian applications.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:07 am | Reply
    • Robert Platt Bell

      Irony Alert: commenter criticizes a DARPA project, using the Internet, which originally was a DARPA funded project (DARPAnet).

      September 12, 2012 at 9:15 am | Reply
      • OldSchool

        Actually, minor detail, but I figured I would clarify: it was ARPANet, they hadn't at that point added the "D" to DARPA...

        September 12, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  13. Damian

    This video gives me the heebee geebies – not sure why

    September 12, 2012 at 8:54 am | Reply
    • Archived

      It's the way the legs shudder and readjust in such a lifelike way that gives me chills. Look at when they kick BigDog, or it slips on the ice, those movements are very uncharacteristic for a machine.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply
      • Damian

        Exactly – my eyes see it and my brain thinks "that thing shouldn't be doing that"....

        September 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
      • Rick from LA

        Life imatates art, this is a case of art imitating life.

        September 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  14. MrT

    One step closer to Warhammer 40k.

    September 12, 2012 at 8:47 am | Reply
  15. TG

    To all the folks claiming some variation of "this is a waste of money/time/resources," please remember that MOST if not ALL of this kind of technology and research ends up in the civilian markets as new, better, safer, more reliable products and services, more discoveries, and better technologies.

    In a few years this mule-bot technology might enable a person in a wheelchair to walk, 24/7 search and rescues, safer IED checks, bomb disposals, or boarder patrols.

    September 12, 2012 at 8:46 am | Reply
  16. Chaz

    Why not just get real mules?

    September 12, 2012 at 8:35 am | Reply
    • Herby Sagues

      Because Mules are difficult to pack up and store, are somewhat unpredictable and can't be easily transported in a helicopter. Also mules have been evolving too slowly for our tastes. This "mule" was non-functional five years ago, is getting close to match a mule's abilities by the end of the decade and one decade from now it will beat them in every conceivable aspect. It is a research project and won't be ready for prime time for a few years, but when it is, no one will be asking why not use real mules instead, the advantages of a robotic one will be obvious.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:57 am | Reply
  17. Skipper

    We want Terminators!!!

    September 12, 2012 at 8:32 am | Reply
  18. Patrick

    If I saw that coming at me i'd pizz myself and run away screaming. Great tech though.

    September 12, 2012 at 8:26 am | Reply
  19. Jay

    Whatev.... the raptor cant even fly without killing pilots. This thing will never see combat. Its just a big toy.

    September 12, 2012 at 8:13 am | Reply
    • TheSchmaltz

      "Rail travel at high speed is not possible, because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia."

      Dr Dionysius Lardner (1793-1859), professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, University College London, 1823.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:34 am | Reply
    • TheSchmaltz

      There will never be a bigger plane built.

      A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin engine plane that holds ten people.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
    • TheSchmaltz

      "The idea that cavalry will be replaced by these iron coaches is absurd. It is little short of treasonous."

      Comment of Aide-de-camp to Field Marshal Haig, at tank demonstration, 1916.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:42 am | Reply
  20. lolol

    put some miniguns on that baby, and the government gets a good weapon to kill some amerikans

    September 12, 2012 at 8:12 am | Reply
  21. dentate

    My Little Pony, My Little Pony....!

    September 12, 2012 at 8:09 am | Reply
  22. Steve

    Farm dem mins!

    September 12, 2012 at 8:07 am | Reply
  23. James

    My god... are you people completely uneducated or mostly uneducated? I swear, if some of you people had your way, we'd be barely at wild west level of technology. Screw innovation unless it can give me an immediate use. So all you people whining about how loud it is for one thing... are you so dumb that you think this is the finished product? Uh no. And as for mules? Maybe the military would rather, in the freaking long run of course, have a mule that they can 100% control and not have to train, stable, feed, clean up after, etc.

    I just thank God everyday that that the people with the actual brains in their heads are working towards innovation and the useless members of society that just sit back and whine about it, putting no effort towards DOING anything about anything are the ones commenting on news posts.

    September 12, 2012 at 7:58 am | Reply
    • hawkechik

      Wild west technology? You give the masses too much credit: "By golly a spear was good for granddad and it's good enough for me! I don't hold with these newfangled bow things. So what if I can bring home the bacon every trip out instead of every tenth trip. What am I supposed to do with all that extra time? Invent things?"

      September 12, 2012 at 9:59 am | Reply
    • sarco

      Thank you, James. I was getting concerned that no one has any sense anymore.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:11 am | Reply
  24. Marc

    If it follows voice commands and is intended for military use... Please tell me they had the forethought to have it recognize only the voices of the soldiers it's working for... The whole it gets shot it's useless thing.. This is a prototype, not the finished product. I'd guess they're working on surviveability for it as well. It'd also be nice if it could use that big metal body in a combat situation. For example if a soldier is wounded and yelling for a medic etc, have it programmed to block the enemy's line of sight to the soldier, and possibly give it a grabber arm so it can drag the soldier to safety or load them into a bullet resistant compartment to carry them to an aid station. This could have a lot more useful applications then just carrying soldiers gear. It could replace the combat medic's role of exposing themselves to enemy fire to retrieve wounded, or be loaded with explosives and sent to take out hard targets as well.

    September 12, 2012 at 7:55 am | Reply
  25. DH

    Same old, same old...... Military murdering weapon, billion dollar waste....Why doesn't the government spend this money to benefit our society??? Easy answer......"Military Industrial Complex" I too would like to see the same peaceful use of our money but history shows the taxpayers wish on the losing side of this argument. Yes, freedom has a price but at what sacrifice?.

    September 12, 2012 at 7:52 am | Reply
    • NODAT1

      you mean like
      DARPAnet = internet
      Bomb sniffing robots = robots that can detect humans that are used it recue in earthquakes
      Battlefield treatment = quick response rescue training that are used to help treat and stabilize patients while on the way to hospital

      These are just a few try to remember to think before you type next time

      September 12, 2012 at 9:47 am | Reply
  26. boarddog

    Remember the Imperial Walkers from Star Wars? Brought down by tripping them. Then you have a multimillion dollar machine laying on the ground doing nothing for the price of a piece of rope. Not to mention that one well placed RPG could take out a limb no matter how well you armor the body.

    September 12, 2012 at 7:14 am | Reply
    • weezer

      OK, settle down Boba Fett.....it would take somewhat less than a RPG to take down a donkey.

      September 12, 2012 at 8:20 am | Reply
    • kake79

      Did you watch the video? It showed how it handles being shoved or slipping on ice and how it can get back up when lying on its side.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
  27. Gregory J

    Im all for advancements.. but really? 1. why not use real mules? 2. uhh wont the noise give away your position? 3. So if this thing is carrying so much, what do the soldiers do when it breaks? leave everything? 4. The enemy is going to be shooting at it... few well placed BBs will bring it to a halt. 5. Looks cool but other than that what a waste! 6. If you could teach it to cook and clean, I'd MARRY IT!

    September 12, 2012 at 7:05 am | Reply
    • JLS639

      You ask why not use real mules, then talk about noise (mules are noisy) and complain bullets could stop it (mules are not bulletproof). What if it is disabled, you ask? The soldiers are no worse off than if they had never had it.

      This is a DARPA project. It is supposed to be relatively low-cost, risky and innovative with potential for long-term payoff. That is what DARPA does.

      September 12, 2012 at 8:45 am | Reply
  28. Robot Monster

    It's the worst DARPA invention since the Internet! In ten years these mules will be harnessed in teams of forty and they will be pulling wagon trains full of Borax all over that damn place!

    September 12, 2012 at 5:47 am | Reply
  29. Torin

    Think about this though. Several times larger. Powered by a nuclear submarine-type generator. Potentially manned by multiple gun turrets and/or soldiers. A tiny fraction of taxpayer money went into this project in comparison, say, to how much gas was spent in one day by military service vehicles in the Middle East. If the government really pumped some taxpayer money into this we would have a terrifying war machine.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:44 am | Reply
    • bob

      Torin,
      It is clear that you don't know much about nuclear reactors. FYI, nuclear reactors require a constant source of cooling water in order to keep things stable. In order to cool the cooling water you need a heat exchanger. Submarines use sea water to accomplish this (not directly, because of safety issues but you get the point). I wouldn't want an air-cooled nuclear reactor walking around anywhere. It would not end well.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:55 am | Reply
  30. readyeller

    What a complete waste of taxpayer money. Let's put a complex piece of machinery into the field which the sole purpose is to carry something. I've got an idea...how about you use a real donkey? Yes this is a very cool project but on the scale of practical it scores an "F" for failure. Can we please stop giving our taxpayer money away?

    September 12, 2012 at 4:55 am | Reply
  31. Xira Arien

    How long until they replace ALL the soldiers with these types of things?

    How long until there are no jobs left?

    September 12, 2012 at 4:50 am | Reply
    • Rick from LA

      Not soon Enough

      September 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  32. Ct

    This is good news , it can also lead to help people who lost their legs , and get around,
    This has many uses , helping people getting out of dangerous areas , and going into rescue , from fires ,
    Or radiation leakage places, ,
    And maintain our freedom ,, they forget that , , freedom is not cheap , remember ,,

    September 12, 2012 at 3:37 am | Reply
  33. Jesse Pinkman

    I need 2 of these for my camping trip. Where can I order them?

    September 12, 2012 at 3:33 am | Reply
  34. magick

    a combo of radioisotope thermoelectric generator & thermoelectric generator power then?

    September 12, 2012 at 3:19 am | Reply
  35. josh

    Amazing. An astronomically more expensive, slower, less reliable, far noisier mechanical version of a donkey. Money well spent.

    September 12, 2012 at 3:09 am | Reply
    • chuck wagon

      Couldn't agree more! Other than let's stop building weapons for the sole purpose of destruction and murder and use the same resources for farm, home, health, and education development.

      Ummm, what?

      September 12, 2012 at 3:50 am | Reply
    • Quadg

      you cant throw donkeys out of airplanes or pack them small in crates and ship them in with seals via submarine. they need just as much food and water as the troops and will complain more...
      this is why they are not standard issue in iraq or afghanistan...

      September 12, 2012 at 7:39 am | Reply
  36. woweverynametaken

    So... wouldn't it be far cheaper and quieter to just use actual pack mules for this? I don't see the big payoff of using a robot. Granted, it is cool though.

    September 12, 2012 at 3:05 am | Reply
  37. Martin Chiaravalloti

    It's ironic that while real animals and ecosystems are disappearing at an alarming rate, Money is being wasted on artificial life forms and robotic killing machines. It seems the money could be better spent maintaining the species that are in peril. Mankind has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt he can kill very well indeed. But can he save species being driven to extinction by our own greed and lack of compassion?

    September 12, 2012 at 3:04 am | Reply
    • Jesse Pinkman

      It's just a freaking robot. Don't get all "species killed by mankind" on us. It's a science project not a conspiracy to kill off endangered species.

      September 12, 2012 at 3:37 am | Reply
      • Martin Chiaravalloti

        I can't help it if you don't see the correlation. When the Cheetah robot is chasing you down snapping it's oversized metal jaws, I wonder if you'll be saying: "It just a robot"?

        September 15, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  38. AlwisS

    Impressive work Darpa.
    Another interesting robot http://youtu.be/r-GGQaoTSBA

    September 12, 2012 at 2:38 am | Reply
  39. JesterJames

    says something about human beings... the first thing they think when looking at a new invention is "now how do I turn it into a weapon so I can more easily murder my fellow human being with minimal risk to me."

    September 12, 2012 at 2:33 am | Reply
    • Julius C

      This is not for murder as you would have people to believe. It is to limit back and neck injury that occur from carrying to much wait. I am one of those people who could have benefited from this technology.

      September 12, 2012 at 2:54 am | Reply
    • Jamez

      Better question would be... why do we invest in technology to protect our freedom (including freedom of speech) so knobs like you can say ignorant statements about humanity?

      September 12, 2012 at 2:54 am | Reply
      • JesterJames

        LMAO, don't kid yourself, call it defending freedom, human rights, whatever... it all involves murdering other human being. Do you really think when you standing before your maker, and he ask why did you murdered his children, your brother, that any of that will be sufficient an excuse?

        September 12, 2012 at 3:23 am |
    • Jesse Pinkman

      I was made by the Large Haydron Collider so next time I stand near it I will ask "him" that question. Chances are "he" will not say a damn thing back to me though....just saying.

      September 12, 2012 at 3:41 am | Reply
  40. MN Blues

    The most popular voice command given to this contraption would be – STFU...you are giving away our position.

    September 12, 2012 at 2:32 am | Reply
    • Jesse Pinkman

      LOL..I was thinking the same exact thing... or if you go on a camping trip you will get the police called on you for disturbing the peace...LOL

      September 12, 2012 at 3:43 am | Reply
    • Doh

      Wait until it gets embedded with the Marine unit for testing soon. I'll bet it'll be returned as a pile of scrap after the Marines shoot it for lack of noise discipline.

      September 12, 2012 at 3:57 am | Reply
  41. Susie J

    Imagine an ultra-quiet nighttime ambush operation in a thick jungle setting...and then having to drag this wailing banshee along. It'll take ages and a few billions before it is of any practical use. Till then it will be relegated to battling it out with the videos of pet cats for space, in youtube.

    September 12, 2012 at 2:25 am | Reply
    • OffTheWorldPolitics

      Not true, strap a couple machine guns on it and some cameras and you now have a pretty effective urban assault drone. I bet this can go up stairs, and be parachute dropped/brought in with helicopter.

      September 12, 2012 at 4:54 am | Reply
      • mrdenali

        exactly what i was thinking. why would the military want to buy something that could carry a rucksack? it doesnt make sense to have a piece of gear that requires refueling if you are on foot.

        September 12, 2012 at 7:05 am |
  42. Brian

    More like Massive Dynamic.

    September 12, 2012 at 2:24 am | Reply
  43. mindandmoney

    Thank the Lord that the USA is the one creating this stuff (that we know of). Everyone should be aware that the exponential growth in technology will inevitably lead us to a cyberdyne systems (Terminator) type robot world. We the people, whose taxes are paying for this stuff and who ultimately will be living with these machine, need to know that there is a macro off switch and that it is in responsible hands. Mr. President and Members of Congress, “Please show how the off switch works”.

    Also, let's not be blind to red herrings such as the DARPA explanation that this is “designed to carry heavy loads for troops in the field". No doubt it can do that but fitted with night vision, AI, GPS, satellite feeds, a few 50 Cals, cannon and rockets (400 pds worth) this thing doesn't need a human soldier and can go virtually anywhere.

    Be vigilant people!

    September 12, 2012 at 2:23 am | Reply
    • derp

      and don't forget your tinfoil hats sheeple!

      September 12, 2012 at 7:42 am | Reply
  44. andrew

    Boston Dynamics is on the bleeding edge of robotics technology IMO.

    September 12, 2012 at 2:00 am | Reply
  45. pbernasc

    impressive, .. once again military spending leads to new technologies. Scary, but impressive

    September 12, 2012 at 1:45 am | Reply
    • Joey

      youtube.com/watch?v=mXI4WWhPn-U

      September 12, 2012 at 1:48 am | Reply

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