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DARPA Robot Growing Smarter, Tougher — and Preparing for RIMPAC

Dec. 19, 2012 - 01:59PM   |  
By PAUL MCLEARY   |   Comments
DARPA's Legged Squad Support System (LS3)
DARPA's Legged Squad Support System (LS3): The $54 million LS3 program completed its first outdoor assessment in January, demonstrating that it could climb and descend a hill, along with proving some perception capabilities.
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The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has released new video of its Legged Squad Support System (LS3) robot pack mule to mark the completion of the system’s latest round of field testing.

In the latest test, the four-legged robot made significant strides over the last round of evaluations this fall, program managers said. The LS3 proved its enhanced “leader follow” decision making capability, demonstrated some precise foot placement over rough terrain, followed verbal commands and maneuvered in a relatively dense urban environment.

The testing took place Dec. 3-14 at Fort Pickett, Va.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joseph Hitt, DARPA program manager, said during a Dec. 17 conference call that one of the biggest takeaways of the past two weeks was that the robot can follow some basic voice commands from a human controller, who can tell it whether he wants the LS3 to follow him closely, or at a greater distance, for example. Instituting the voice command capability was “surprisingly easy” Hitt said, since DARPA has more than a decade’s worth of experience in adding elements of autonomy to its robotic minions.

The plan is for the LS3 to be able to follow about 10 “very robust” voice commands that can be used for a variety of actions, he added.

Managers want the system to be able to carry 400 pounds of gear up to 24 miles in varied terrain, and must also “follow the leader either in an exact path or its own chosen path that is best for itself. The interaction needs to be intuitive,” Hitt said. In short, “it needs to act like a trained animal.”

The $54 million program completed its first outdoor assessment in January, demonstrating that it could climb and descend a hill, along with proving some perception capabilities. In July, DARPA, working with the Marine Corps and the Army, kicked off an 18-month development plan that will end with a field exercise in which the LS3 embeds with Marines conducting field exercises.

Three tests are scheduled for 2013, and two more in 2014, DARPA said. This spring the robot will head out to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., followed by a stint at the Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center in the summer. By winter 2014, Fort Benning, Ga., will have a turn, followed by a possible stint at the biannual Rim of the Pacific exercise in the summer of 2014.

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