Marine Corps Powers Down Robotic Mule

Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, test the capabilities of the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), aboard Fort Devens, Mass., Nov. 5, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Michael Walters/Released)Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, test the capabilities of the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), aboard Fort Devens, Mass., Nov. 5, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Michael Walters/Released)

The U.S. Marine Corps has decided to power down its robotic mule, at least for now anyway.

That’s according to my colleague, Hope Hodge Seck, who reported at that the service has decided to shelve its Legged Squad Support System, known more popularly as the robotic mule, or robo-mule:

Marines’ barrel-chested Legged Squad Support System — known affectionately as the robotic mule — has been put out to pasture.

The machine, which resembles a headless pack mule made of metal, came about through a $32 million, two-and-a-half year contract between the Pentagon’s research arm, known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Google Inc.’s Boston Dynamics, of Waltham, Massachusetts.

DARPA teamed up with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab to create an autonomous four-legged creature that could lighten troops’ load by carrying 400 or more pounds of weight, according to reports about the 2010 contract.

While the prototype helped Marines by carrying as much as 400 pounds of their gear, its lawnmower-like gas engine proved to be too noisy and officials struggled to figure out to maintain it in the field and incorporate it into traditional patrols, Hodge Seck reported. Even a smaller dog-sized electric version of the robot named Spot was put into storage.

But that doesn’t mean the folks at Boston Dynamics won’t come up with more advanced robots designed for troops or possible military applications. Engineers continue to field-test everything from the humanoid Atlas to headless quadrupeds that resemble reindeer, as the company’s holiday video below shows.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Is silencing a lawnmower engine really so beyond our capacity as to bring matters to a halt? Are there no alternate powertrains that could have been fitted? Surely there are scenarios in which the noise of a robo-mule would tell an enemy nothing of which he was not already well aware? Was there no money available to continue testing, perhaps in cold weather climates or jungle? This seems a pity.

  • Guest

    For front line operations I can see the need for silence. For units not on the front line, this may still work. The big issue being maintaining it.

  • William Peterson

    I’m pretty sure Elon Musk and his boys at Tesla could come up with a quiet, electric Powertrain that would also need a LOT less maintenance, even if no one else could…

    It’s pretty sad that they’re flushing $32 million down the toilet because they picked the wrong engine for the prototype!

    • blight_

      On the plus side the money was well-spent on building a robotic system that could walk across a variety of terrain, so when the noise problem is solved it’ll hopefully be an investment well spent.

  • Patriot on a String

    Curious? DARPA actually held a Robotics Concept Challenge at MIT.. Students there designed and built this prototype 100% all Funded By DARPA.. Then DARPA bought the rights and patents from a Private Company called Boston Dynamics… Last I knew any all conceptual designs, prototypes, and work product funded by a Federal Agency through a College was Property of the Federal Government with the students involved hoping to earn contracts as Government employees upon graduation…. At least that’s the way it’s done around here for NASA, the Navy, Army, and others through DARPA block grants… Signed Agreements and all.. Wait… We are talking about programs like Multi-Cam…. Designed under contract that stated all Work Product is property of the US Government who is paying millions during the design phase, but then millions paid to purchase said Work a Product??? Oh yeah so the Private Company can make political campaign contributions…. It was dead on arrive as more silent systems were already up and running to pack in materials…. And ten time the loads faster…but hey are called Black Hawks and Chinooks and Ospreys…. And now Drone Helicopter-Support Replenishment Evacuation and Recovery being worked on now…..

  • AAK

    At least BD is still making creepy videos.

  • John_B

    Though impressive engineering, these “animals” are still no where near survivable in the battle field. When someone tries to kick my kid, he would dodge to avoid it. When he could not avoid it, he would move in the direction of the force to lessen the impact. He then move back to his old position if he wants to. Here, the LS3 is just so dumb that it tries to resist and takes the brunt of the force. Wrong engineering operational concept.

  • oblat

    Everyone knows when you have a bad idea that will never work the place to go is the marines.
    They will flush $32 million down the toilet for you.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    There were half a dozen comments on this article a day or two ago. What happened?

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