DARPA shows off Big Dog ground drone to USMC Commandant

The Marine Corps Commandant and DARPA’s director got a first hand look Monday at what DARPA used to call the BigDog ground drone and is now calling the Legged Squad Support System (LS3).

Boston Dynamics has built the ground drone. DARPA officails developed the LS3 to give soldiers’ and Marines’ backs a rest. The legged drone is designed to carry 400 pounds and follow a squad leader over rocky terrain, up hills and through brush.

LS3 had its first outdoor test in February when DARPA released this video of its performance.

Since February, Boston Dynamics engineers have built LS3 to run quieter and transition between it’s trot, jog and run modes.

“LS3 is now roughly 10 times quieter than when the platform first came online, so squad members can carry on a conversation right next to it, which was difficult before,”Army Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, DARPA program manager said in a statement.

The ground drone can trot through rocky terrain at 1-3 miles per hour. It can jog at 5 miles per hour and then run at 7 miles per hour over flat surfaces.

If the BigDog…err…LS3 is knocked over, the drone is programmed to stand back up. It also doesn’t require a soldier or Marine to drive it. It will naturally follow a leader.

“The vision for LS3 is to combine the capabilities of a pack mule with the intelligence of a trained animal,” Hitt said in a statement.

The Marine Corps started a 2-year program to develop the LS3 in July. The first test hosted by DARPA and the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory is scheduled for December.

Last point: Why change the name from BigDog to LS3? Is there a Pentagon acquisition rule that states you must have at least a four-word acronym that includes the word system if a service wants to buy a weapon or vehicle? I don’t get it.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • blight_

    Need one that can tow a mortar. Not optimistic about firing one from big dog…

  • Taylor

    Seems like a mule would be cheaper.

    • Anon

      I had the chance to run that by some folks on the DSB a couple times. I pointed out that a mule with blinders, earplugs, and a little operant conditioning could do the same thing, except it would be mostly self-guiding and could “autonomously refuel with field-sourced resources”. The reply was… less than favorable.

    • Curt

      It seems that way, but think about it.
      1. A mule has to eat, even when not working. So although it can graze, you need land for them to graze on, vets to check on them, trainers and handlers to work with them, breeding stock, etc. The robot just sits quietly on a shelf until needed and when you’re done with it, you can recycle it.
      2. A mule needs to rest, a robot just needs more fuel.
      3. A mule would need to be trained to enter a truck, helo, be parachuted, fast roped, etc. (OK, good luck on all those). A robot can potentially be slung under a helo, stacked on the back of an APC, and HALO or fastrope with the best of them.
      4. Can a robot charge the squads electronics? Maybe if they use a methane fuelcell but collection is a problem. Just plug in to the robot.
      5. Mules need a separate and bulking logistics train (hay and oats) in areas with limited forage (like say Iraq or AFPAK).

      So while it seems a mule is cheaper, in reality, it isn’t even close.

  • Johnny Ranger

    That is the coolest thing ever.

  • Andy

    Need to have a Machine gun and Camera mounting in front and have the DOG taking a LEAD….

  • Noha307

    Commandant: How is the F-35B program coming along?
    Adjutant: Well, sir it…uhh…um… Hey, look, a robot dog!
    Commandant: Oooo, cool! What were we talking about again?

    At least it no longer sounds like (and is as loud as) a leaf blower.

    (In all honesty though, these things are pretty cool.)

  • jrrr

    1) Why does it pull its feet up so quickly? It looks like it’s constantly trying to unstick its feet from tangles. Perhaps this motion makes it harder to tangle in the first place?

    2) Not sure how to word this – why does it move its feet so frequently? It appears programmed to maintain a constant “stride rate” regardless of ground speed. This is particularly apparent at around 1:17, when one machine is stationary but stomping, and the other is moving very slowly but stomping rather quickly.

    On both points, it seems like the natural stride of an animal would also be more efficient for a machine.

  • Roy Smith

    They’re still trying to do something about the fart noises it makes while moving.

  • Glen

    What happens when…
    – fuel tank / carried ammo catches fire and it keeps “following the leader”?
    – someone shoots a hydralic line / joint / fan / etc?

    Seems a track vehicle would be better suited…

  • orly?

    How many versions of an unmanned ground supply platform do we need?

  • Matt

    Kinda loud, no? Would be OK I guess for long insertions or patrols but eventually you have to turn the damn thing off to hear!

    Would be great to have it follow you to a staging area, shut it down, then go on the mission… then whistle twice and powers up and appears out of nowhere with water bottles, ammo, medical, etc. It comes to you like ol’ Paint used to do in the westerns.

    Ah…. now I see it.

  • Ron

    What happens when it see’s a cat?

    • Russell Romick

      Haha I was thinking the same thing, or a car or a dog running past its field of view, does it try to follow? I would think they will eventually have some command conditions like follow only the guy with a chemlight on his helmet or something similar. I understand the need for research and prototypes to advance technology but really, there are humvees, firescouts, quads, deuce and a half’s, motorcycles, and yes mules. Spending money for something you don’t need nor will you ever is so wasteful. Let the Japanes continue designing their robots. Buy a bunch and have them as “porters” they are nearly as silent as a human(electric) and can go in almost the same terrrain. I understand the convenience and redundancy of a 4 legged version but the cost will spiral out of control like every other defense project. Everyone think oh yeah the LCS was outrageously expensive but we have learned our lesson and so has the contractor……nope. Every project in the past 20 years has spiraled out of control to the point of full reviews being done and some construction temporarily halted and charges discussed. And you know what we do every time? We always ALWAYS ALWAYS pay, and pay through the nose. The contractors are always laughing at us as dumb slow-witted taxpayers. We have such horendous fiscal mismanagement it is stupid. I first noticed it at the time of the tanker scandal but it was before and since, and until we wake up and say okay you say 1 billion? 1 billion it is….no cost plus, no restructuring. That is it. Oh now you say 1.2billion? Okay you, you, you go to jail and now we own 50% of your company. Fraud is fraud. CAn you tell I am fed up with this crap?!?

  • Rob

    The drone is amazing achievement. Soldiers aren’t as beefy as they use to be, having something help them carry extra equipment would be useful.

    However, wonder how they’ll sort out endurance. MAINTENANCE in the Field.. More High tech the plumming, easier it is for drain to get clogged up.

    Where heck they going use this thing? I hope the soldiers in the field will be able make sense in putting these expensive machines before production is approved.

    As side note, i don’t like fact their not calling them Big Dogs anymore.

  • dubweiser101

    Will it play fetch and bring me my slippers and paper in the morning?

  • AAK

    I like these creepy things and in 10 years I’d imagine it;ll be a whole lot slicker. But for virtually any terrain this is supposed to operate on I think a flexible-tracked vehicle with a self righting mechanism would be just as effective and a whole lot simpler.

  • jghj

    just get a fucking horse

  • Arthur Russell


    How much weaponry could you load on it? Add in remote control or ai targetting, You have a “mini-tank” if armored. Then add in some “active defense”. How long before you no longer really need a guy to “lead” the thing?

    400 lbs? 100 lbs armor-300 lbs-remote controlled minigun? Now upsize it. Remember, this is a prototype.

  • PolicyWonk

    While impressive – this thing is awfully loud (granted, It is a prototype).

    What concerns me, is that even though it’ll carry 400 lbs now, it somehow seems unlikely the load marines are physically carrying will get any lighter.

  • IknowIT

    What is the benefit of this, in total, over a real mule?

  • Tribulationtime

    “IT” would grew in something usefull. Right Now I gonna keep one eye on my pet f***ing around my mower

  • JohnB

    Super rich men ‘s war toys.

  • anon

    All in all, ‘s a Good Idea, though the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. Definitely not feasible in the short-term future. *shrug*

    China’s response: smaller versions that carry less, are cheaper, and by the billions. And they explode (command-det or accidental)

  • Rinkusu

    400 pounds, hmm… So-o-o if we mount soldier on top of it, give him mg or at weapon we would have mech cavalry unit.
    Not to mention mech cowboy potential in Hollywood!

  • blight_

    Robot horse cavalry, for the day we need to ride down those foot-mobile Taliban.

  • Joe America

    It follows the leader….
    So what happens if the leader ends being a bad guy?

  • DanS

    Man is that thing loud.

  • traindodger

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the psychological warfare potential of a platform like this is limitless. The creep-out factor alone is overwhelming. Plus, this is just the first generation of the technology. Maybe ten or twenty years from now, these things will be faster than the fastest Olympic sprinter, agile, armed to the teeth and practically silent. This is just the beginning.

  • jeff

    remember we had mounted cav until we had jeeps and we did not loose the last mule until after Korea. not to mention in Vietnam the used bicycles to all huge amount of cargo

  • Hefe

    I am a bit frustrated that darpa gets millions of dollars to build a gigantic robot, but the military still hasn’t built or bought a more dependable firearm for our grunts in the field. We know our soilders fire guns that’s fact, the robot is theoretical. Seems the military needs some better prioritites.

  • Timer4ever

    Things are getting really spooky out there. We love to bring the kitchen sink with us in combat. Just remembering Charlie and his baggie of rice.

  • Dean

    So many people are sceptical about this project , im surprsed the potential applicatioins for this and knowledge gained in the development are priceless this could really help to win battles and save lives , well done Boston Dynamics

    • Guest

      Ever since the failure of programs like FCS, trashing whatever high tech programs the military is working on has been “in vogue” among the armchair warriors.

  • paul

    looks like a total waste of time and money in its current form to me!
    yeah , toys are neat but I can,t see this as anything but a money pit.
    it looks far too noisy, slow and vulnerable to rifle fire , and I can,t see it as an asset

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