Video: The Latest, Terrifying Drone Dog

Remember DARPA’s BigDog? You know, the terrifying, four-legged robot that won’t fall over when kicked or when walking on ice and snow. Well, DARPA and Boston Dynamics (the guys who are also working on this) are testing an upgraded version of the dog that will carry 400 pounds of gear for more than 20 miles without a refueling.

The latest version of the robot, called the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), will use “vision sensors” to lock onto dismounted soldiers and follow them in the field (like a loyal puppy, too bad it reminds me of the Terminator) and autonomously navigate around obstacles in its path. Heck, the damned thing is even expected to respond to soldiers’ voice commands, like “come”, “stop” and “sit.” Oh and if that’s not enough, it will serve as a walking battery charger for troops’ electronics.

I will say one thing, it’s going to have to get a lot quieter to accompany some infantry patrols.

Read what DARPA has to say about its new toy and then click through the jump to watch a video of the LS3:

Recently the LS3 prototype underwent its first outdoor exercise, demonstrating the ability to follow a person using its “eyes”—sensors that allow the robot to distinguish between trees, rocks, terrain obstacles and people. Over the course of the next 18 months, DARPA plans to complete development of and refine key capabilities to ensure LS3 is able to support dismounted squads of warfighters.

Features to be tested and validated include the ability to carry 400lbs on a 20-mile trek in 24-hours without being refueled, and refinement of LS3’s vision sensors to track a specific individual or object, observe obstacles in its path and to autonomously make course corrections as needed. Also planned is the addition of “hearing” technology, enabling squad members to speak commands to LS3 such as “stop,” “sit” or “come here.” The robot also serves as a mobile auxiliary power source— troops may recharge batteries for radios and handheld devices while on patrol.

DARPA seeks to demonstrate that an LS3 can carry a considerable load from dismounted squad members, follow them through rugged terrain and interact with them in a natural way, similar to the way a trained animal and its handler interact.

“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.”

The 18-month platform-refinement test cycle, with Marine and Army involvement, kicks off this summer.  The tests culminate in a planned capstone exercise where LS3 will embed with Marines conducting field exercises.

LS3 is based on mobility technology advanced by DARPA’s Big Dog technology demonstrator, as well other DARPA robotics programs which developed the perception technology for LS3’s “eyes” and planned “ears.”

  • Taggert

    I’d think the noise of the engines would be a problem for foot patrols as well as the voice commands.

    • bbb

      Well its a prototype, I’m sure that when they get the general mechanics down they’ll start focusing on noise reduction and mounting points for equipment.

    • tardiz

      If graphene muscles (just google it) live up to promise this thing will be silent and completely electric in a generation or two.

    • http://twitter.com/ThinkingWeasel @ThinkingWeasel

      This thing is ignorant, no practicality at this stage. However, I could see a stripped down stealth version for recon or maybe even take-downs. If DARPA is letting us see this, imagine what they arent showing us

    • Evan Padgham

      deffinetly the noice is a HUGE problem. if you can make it quieter and the voice and video feed really good then i like it. still like the rc cars with the video and mics on them better though

    • phugas68

      In a quiet forest, or desert, we use all of our senses including smell, I hope it comes with deodorant as well as heavy duty mufflers. This thing may be so noisy because they can’t generate enough power to carry the pay load when they muffle the engines.

  • DARKSIDIUS

    Put a mini gun on this, and you have a terifying robot great job Darpa

    • Thinking_ExUSAF

      I have heard that your approach has already been tried (on a different platform) and deployed to Afghanistan. Rumor has it that with the first autonomous stream of tracers fired over the command bunker (or some similar incident), the infernal machine was switched to the “OFF” operating mode. LOL!

    • Michael

      but then you have to compensate for the miniguns’ weight and will majorly effect the performance, but that would be a horrific nightmare for our enemies!

  • Skyepapa

    It seems like a mule might be the best replacement for a mule — I know need for feed and water require additional logistic and manpower channels, but doesn’t that balance the likely incredible cost of these toys and the noise mentioned by Taggert above? The great thing about real animals is that they can forage for fuel (in many environments) and extend their range on the fly. Can this thing graze for fuel? I also know animals get spooked in firefights battle environment, but still… Can someone please explain what this thing’s competitive primary (considering both lifetime costs and survivability) competitive advantage is over flesh and blood pack animals?

    • blight

      tbh, is there fodder to graze in Afghanistan or Pakistan? Granted, mules might work better in the high mountains of Hindu Kush, but animals might panic if the helicopter they are transported in takes small arms fire.

      • joe

        Given the trains of pack mules you see carrying Mujahideen weapons in photos from the Soviet Afghan invasion, yes. I’m sure they can be trained, too.

    • Thinking_ExUSAF

      And a mule might have the sense to get out of the line of fire! LOL! Imagine a foot patrol either setting up an ambush or being ambushed. As the soldiers to go ground, the “dog” walks over and stares at the now immoble soldiers like a big red flag saying “shoot me”. LOL!

      This “dog” had better be taught the lessons of self preservation that real dogs (and mules) have learned over millions of years of evolution, and have those “lessons” fine tuned to the tactical battlefield. Otherwise, even if I could recharge my iPod from it, I think that I would want it as far from me as possible in any sort of tactical situation! LOL!

    • MattR

      1) Mules need handlers, which ties up 1 warfighter with mule-sitting duty. 2) Mules can bolt, refuse to budge and generally behave randomly. 3) 1 bullet or piece of shrapnel ANYWHERE, and your pack animal is either dead or escaped.

      Not saying this is a perfect solution (lots still left to fix0, but – if done right – it would be far better than a flesh-and-blood pack animal

  • Dr. Grzlickson

    This should accompany our snipers and other stealthy troops.

    • Infidel4LIFE

      Yes! Take em on snatch raids too, hell its a dog right?? Funny as hell..

    • Anonymous

      obvious troll is obvious

  • Zeyn

    wow, we are wasting a bunch of money on this?
    why do we just use a mules? they carry 400 pounds,fast,very good coordination, CHEAP, use food instead of electricity, no malfunctions and they dont panic.

    it seems to me DARPA just wants to look important by spending money on immature technology.

    • TMB

      I appreciate your sentiment regarding this vehicle, but spending money on emerging technologies is actually DARPA’s purpose in life.

      • Bill

        DARPA is the “Because we can” part of our defense spending – I only want to see a mule if it is part half-track and part mule.

        • Thomas L. Nielsen

          “I only want to see a mule if it is part half-track and part mule”.

          Cyborg mules. We’re so screwed….

          Regards & all

          Thomas L. Nielsen
          Luxembourg

      • Dave M

        Exactly. This is new technology, it may not look like much now, but at some point in the future this thing might be able to sprint faster than a horse, carry triple the weight, have a weapon, and be remote controlled.

        But we’ll never get there unless we try out new things.

      • Thinking_ExUSAF

        An important part of the DARPA mission is in fact to “mature” technologies to the point where an R&D program can blend into an acquisition and deployment program, but an equally important part is the identify the technologies that just dont make sense. Perhaps this is one of those where the second option applies!

        Mules, like hammers, have been supplying a basic function, competantly and with little room for improvement, for thousands of years. If I say that this technology supplies a more competant service than a mule, I think that it should come under the heading of “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs!”. Bring on the proof! :-)

        • Uncle Bill

          And the hammer has never been improved on, like say with a nail gun.

          Happy Luddite Day!

          • Thinking_ExUSAF

            And a happy Luddite Day to you as well!

            A nail gun drives a nail more quickly and consistently than a hammer, saving time and increasing “quality”. Thanks to the saved man-hours of fairly expensive labor, a nail gun will rapidly pay for itself. When this mechanical marvel ends up consistently operating cheaper than the mule (mk1 mod0 version) to the point that it can amortize the considerable difference in acquisition cost, I will gladly accept the extraordinary proof.

            ‘Till then I will proudly wear your label as a Luddite! :-) And even then, I will always wonder about who cooked the books on the expenses!

    • justin

      This is only stage 1. By stage 10 it is 40m tall armed with lasers and taking out Rebel Shield Generators.

      I know its Star Wars but come on, we’re all thinking it.

      • tiger

        “These are not the drones you were looking for”….

      • http://twitter.com/ThinkingWeasel @ThinkingWeasel

        F**K Yeah!

    • Guest A

      This thing could grow up to be an AT-AT one day…

    • tiger

      I’m sure folks at Pfizer Pharma said, “Shouldn’t we be curring HIV instead of making Viagra???”

      • blight

        And as for AIDS:

        Once it’s proliferating in your T-cells, you’re screwed. The best you can do is hold the viral load down, and the lower the load the less clinically apparent it will become (eg, your HIV infection does not lead to AIDS).

        HIV, like other retroviruses has a fair degree of mutability, so epitope-targeting vaccines don’t do so well. However, pharma compounds targeting viral integrases and proteases when combined together do very well in shutting down HIV’s ability to replicate and invade new cells. Good enough for now.

    • yaynumbers

      For perspective, DARPA spent money on an robotic elephant during the Vietnam war, because elephants were decent jungle-busters and carried heavy loads.

  • ADR

    What a complete waste of money. They use _real_ animals for things like this all over the world, in spots that are _definitely_ more harrowing than the forests of …whever that is in the video.. Virginia?

  • Jacob

    I can’t help but think that the drone dog will be the slowest and least mobile component of an infantry squad.

    • nraddin

      I can’t speak for this model but the bigdog had a running speed just above 4mph. That’s no Olympic record or anything but it’s faster than most people walk.

  • Uncle Bill

    I think that once this dog gets it’s final paws fitted and it’s insulated, camo fur in place, as well as a better muffler, it will be a fairly stealthy beast. And like some hybrid cars, it might shut off it’s engine when not moving, perhaps to listen. And while a human might beat it up the hill today, the next version will be faster and more nimble and humans will be the same. One problem in the future may be keeping ground pounders from riding it..

    • Doc61

      After 30 days in the field, it probably would look good…….

    • Dan

      One RPG and that thing and all the gear it carries is toast. Let’s be honest, those will cost a pretty penny. If you use living animals however then they’re cheap and a lot more expendable.

      • joe

        Unfortunately, the animal rights lot may not agree with you.

      • Guest A

        I would think it would be a lot bigger mess if if an RPG hit a live animal. Plus this thing could probably take some small arms fire and keep moving.

        • Guest

          One RPG to anything and you can expect it to be toast..

          • TMB

            Of course an RPG is going to take out just about anything, but the underlying issue is that this vehicle becomes a single point of failure for that unit’s supplies versus everyone taking their fair share on their backs.

    • nraddin

      I 100% agree with you, they where not worried about noise it makes right now, just making it work. One problem at a time.This thing sounds to me like one of 2500w generators with a stock muffler on it. Change it out for a much larger unit (We use ones from small cars) and you cut the noise to way down.

  • TMB

    I keep looking at that photo and I swear there’s a guy sitting in front with his legs sticking out.

    • TTe

      Any guy walking with his legs in that sitting position can’t haul 400/2 pounds load along 20 miles. Can’t help thinking that way too.

  • asdfjkl;

    seems legit

  • Lance

    Interesting

    The BIG question when do they make the ATAT walker from Star wars for the Army? LOL (Joke)

    • http://twitter.com/Olternaut @Olternaut

      I’m not laughing. That’s actually a good idea. actually no….not the AT-AT. That was just a piloted armored personnel carrier. I want to see an ED-209 type of heavily armed bipedal attack droid.

      • Lightbringer

        It doesn’t need to be bipedal, really. As long as it can go the same places as a human, and kill enemy troops when it gets there, it can be any shape it wants. I suspect that this transport version will be a tech testbed for later generations that’ll be armed…

        • justin

          Or just the fear factor for some Jihadies with an RPG rounding a corner and finding a 2 story tall Big Dog armed and armored.

          maybe for psych-war purposes, fix a loud speaker that blasts the imperial march.

          • crackedlenses

            The Irish have bag-pipes; we have loudspeakers with movie soundtrack…..

    • tiger

      Next step, Gundam mobile suits…

  • fewrwrw

    I don’t see a mouth, how are you gonna play frisby with it?

  • Dumb Grunt

    It looks ok on solid ground, but how does it do in deep soft mud or in a swamp ???
    That noise is not good at all.

  • http://www.oudin.org Oudin

    I think Leg squad support system will be stealthy equiepment, did not make noise.

  • Doc61

    Big, Strong and follows simple commands? Put ‘im on a 60!

  • pedestrian

    Operator: Sh*t!
    Big Dog: Command affirmative, now in sit mode. Next command please.

  • Lightbringer

    Seems to me that these things shouldn’t be FOLLOWING an infantry patrol…they should be about 200 feet up front, setting off any IEDs along the line of advance. So a dual purpose for them: carrying gear and protecting the squad from booby traps.

    • joe

      BANG!

      “Yay! it set off an IED. Call it in to base.”
      “..Err…sarge?”
      “What?”
      “I put the radio pack on it.”

      • guest

        Haha..exactly. i like where your head is at but that wouldnt fly lightbringer

  • Jeff

    The problem with this or anything that reduces weight or lightens the load of the soldiers is that his Sgt.’s immediate response… “Great! Now we can carry 400lbs more ammo!”

    • TMB

      Exactly. The Army has done pretty well with lightening a soldier’s load over the last few years, but every soldier either ends up voluntarily packing more gear or he just gets fielded new toys he’s ordered to haul around.

      A Marine infantry officer and I were discussing this a couple years ago. His first thought was “great, how often do I need to fuel it and where am I going to get that fuel?” Another big concern of his was he’d end up worrying more about all their gear in one central vulnerable location rather than the mission. If someone in his position has to keep looking over his shoulder to make sure his robot didn’t break down, get lost, or give away his position, then its not doing him any good.

  • Jay

    The point of DARPA is to develope technology like this so that they can provide it to better companies that can improve the design. Yes it may seem like a waste of money now but the robotics research done here will be improved. DARPA is used to make technologies available for companies to grab it off the shelf and see how to make it better. This specific technology is way ahead of its time and won’t be used for a while. You can’t take a tracked vehicle or wheeled vehicle into jagged rocks on the hills of Afganistan or a country like it. This is a good idea, its just not there yet.

    • anonymous

      ^ This X2

  • CW3 Wentling

    Sounds like a chain saw.

    • Jeff

      This is still just the LS3 prototype. It isn’t until the LS4 and LS5 prototypes that they’ll focus on bringing down the noise. Its currently just built for robustness and to give them a testbed to fine tune the programming.

  • rod lewis

    too much noise way to big. should be in a Ghillie suit.

  • James

    If our nation’s enemies are afraid of leaf blowers, I think we found the ultimate weapon. High fives DARPA!

  • Mark

    20 miles in 24 hours? This is horrible. On road marches we carry over one hundred pounds thirty two miles in five and a half hours to include two fifteen minute stops and one thirty minute stop. It would never stay up with a loaded down soldier. You’d have to have delayed needed equipment unloaded from the soldier to the dog and a fallout contingient (group of soldiers) to stay with the slow dog. So now the question would be what gear is delayable for the over all length of the move?

  • tiger

    Since the bad guys have no fancy DARPA to make robots, How do the Taliban move suppiles??? They have no trains, boats or planes and the roads are few??

    • Mark

      They didn’t for the most part. They lived nearby.

  • Infidel4LIFE

    There is no replacing a mule with a robot. Nice try DARPA, but its not practical. The Army has used mules in the past and uses them now. They carry a heavy load, and nothing compares to them when ur moving men and weapons and everything else.

  • Bill2

    DARPA may have something here; obviously its still in development and has a ways to go but the concept and initial ‘reality’ looks very interesting..!

  • anthony

    I think {Mr. ED} is alot more fun looking at if he could run also and not so noisy.

  • anthony

    Id pack three donkeys and a cowboy over that,they wont make much niose and will do the job as they do now in afgan and earas around..

  • Erwynn Cepada

    it’s so noisy… not good for stealth operation…

  • Jeff

    It’s a development project. Any of you ever see the first computer – filled a room. Now your phone can do that job plus 100 more at the same time. Now that the programming for stability has been established, it’s only a matter of time before it gets better, and smaller, and faster, and smarter, and quieter.

  • Ross

    never really liked these things..but then look at how tanks were at the start…

    (i kno there’s a difference between ‘mules’ and big ass tanks..but u get my drift..)

  • TMB

    The very first IFV was pretty much a go-kart with a .30 cal browning nailed to it.

    • blight

      Bren Universal Carrier?

  • Chris

    Why does this remind me of the robot dog “Rags” from Woody Allens’ movie, “Sleeper”?

  • Chris

    Why does it remind me of the robot dog “Rags” from Woody Allens’ movie “Sleeper”?

  • Jim37F

    Sounds just like an ATV carrying supplies lol

    Besides its a prototype people, relax, its not like they’re gonna ship 5000 of these things in that level of development to our guys this year.

    And yeah, and RPG would wreck this thing, but a real live Mule, an ATV, heck even an M114/1151 wouldn’t exactly be good to go after taking an RPG hit either

    Plus for a mule, you gotta have a soldier caring for it at all times, making sure it doesn’t run off during a firefight or whatever

  • RCDC

    The noise could wake up the terrorist…

  • Grinch

    Wonder if it’s bitten any anchorwomen in the face?

  • sooperfly

    A waste of developmente dollars that will be getting scarce in the future. We’d be better off developing lighter materials and smarter weapons for our soldiers instead of wasting money on something else that we drag around in the field and then have to fix when it breaks.

  • DaleU

    This’ll be great when it decides in the middle of a firefight to hump someones leg!

  • nunyas

    Watch him start pissing oil on the side of a humvee.

  • majorleewild

    Not to mention that it has been done in the past… Mule tase just like chicken when your in a fix for food…

    • blight_

      We are unlikely to be in an emergency where we have to have expedient food supplies (eating animals). If we run out of food we’re out of ammo. And if you’re out of ammo…food is the least of your problems!

  • DaDan

    Yup, infantry will definitely use this as a means of transportation when the boss isn’t looking. Boots lead the way!!

  • Technoweapon

    We’re seeing the introduction of walking technology. The next step in transportation technology and capability. Give this time to mature and grow.

    With technology like this comes the possibility of walkers, or mechs. Science Fiction is slowly but surely coming into the world of reality.

    If you’re smirking and scoffing then imagine this…

    The technology has matured. It’s quiet. And with other technology implemented it has become an awesome and game changing invention that can/has spread into every Branch. The Navy can autonomously load/offload their ships in port at record shattering speeds, for instance.

    Now go bigger. We’ve been able to create fighting vehicles that can walk, trot, even run. Capable of carrying large weapons and heavy armor. Suddenly the M1Abrams has been trumped by a three story tall armored behemoth of technological death.

    I’m not blabbering about science fiction and nerdy wet dreams. You’re seeing the introduction right there. Give it another 50 years.

  • Eightcatshome

    You know that military tactics have become “neo-Napoleonic” in the sense of being able to line up all the cannon against a tactical point to blow that point away and then bayonet rush the empty defense across the carnage to flank the enemy there. So far, air power has served that purpose, esp. with Reaper type drones. The The brass are still sending bayonet charges (essentially) against blasted positions, and sometimes going “Ooops!”. Arm the dogs and have a remote operator to work the weapon, as if it is a terrain using Reaper. The charge could be up steep terrain at 20 miles an hour. Noise is “good!” Top of the high spot overlooks enemy tactical retreat and terrain based drones don’t have to leave.