There’s a robot following Marine Pfc Marcus Beedle through the woods at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. The quadruped robot, the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), does this by using flickering lasers and stereoscopic cameras in its head to fixate on a pattern of thick bands strapped to the Marine’s backpack. The robot also traces the path Beedle takes by tracking a navigation device strapped to his right boot. LS3 can pick its own way through rough terrain or tramp directly in its master’s footsteps.
“Follow-the-leader is our bread and butter,” says Kevin Blankespoor, VP of controls and autonomy at Boston Dynamics (purchased by Google in December 2013), the creator of LS3.
Beedle and a squad of Marines from the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, were the first to take this robotic pack mule for squad-level testing. PM was the only media outlet on hand for this historic meet-up of Marine and machine. Officials from the Marine Corps War-fighting Lab, DARPA and Boston Dynamics developed the LS3 to go where tracked and wheeled vehicles can’t go – over rocks, up and down steep inclines, and through woods and swamps.
Capable of reaching speeds of 10 km/h and carrying up to 180 kg, the idea behind the LS3 is for Marines to use it to take supplies to their secured positions. LS3 is made for war zones, but it is not viewed as a weapon. It’s just a mule – though some Marines would like to see that change. “We’d love a machine gun on it,” says 1st Lt Alex Hurran.
Watch as the Marine Corps put LS3 through its paces for the first time…