Meet the four-legged robot BigDog – LS3 by Boston Dynamics: The Latest Robotic War Machine


According to Boston Dynamics – which made its name with the development of the BigDog quadruped robot in 2005 – the LS3 has been designed to accompany warfighters into battle, carrying 180kg payloads and freeing up troops that would otherwise be carrying such equipment themselves.

Meet Boston Dynamics' LS3 – the latest robotic war machine

The LS3 Dynamic Robot

One cannot help thinking this packed mule could serve a variety of functions in a war, as its real-life counterpart did in the Great Wars.

In other words, the LS3 won’t just be carrying the necessities of water, food, shelter, and medical supplies – it’s more than likely it will be carrying the instruments of war.

The demonstration video gives a sense of the LS3 in action

Scope creep will dictate that the so-called “payloads” being carried might well include artillery ammunition. What you’ve then got is not only a transport vehicle but a tactical enforcer for the army and marines that could replace soldiers at the war front altogether.

The LS3 Dynamic Robot

This machine, which at times is reminiscent of a modern-day centaur (compare the images below), also puts a whole new connotation to the idea of a suicide bomber.

Centaur skeleton of human and equine bone, on display at the International Wildlife Museum in Tucson

Centaur skeleton of human and equine bone, on display at the International Wildlife Museum in Tucson, part of an art installation by sculptor Bill Willers. Built by Skulls Unlimited International, Inc. Sklmsta

Boston Dynamics' Robotic Mule Is Doing War Games With the Marines | Smart  News| Smithsonian Magazine

The LS3 Dynamic Robot. Unmanned Systems Technology

The LS3 is capable of tracking certain visual and oral commands and uses GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and computer vision to guide itself.

Until the latest iteration of prototyping, it was difficult for soldiers to hold a conversation near the LS3 without the robot picking up the discussion and acting on the voice commands.

But the new LS3 has overcome these challenges. Additionally, it now comes with a 32km range in between refuels and can operate for a whole day without stopping.

At the same time it suffers from no psychological shortcomings, it does not bleed, and is capable of lifting itself after being turned on its side.

Under the hood

LS3 is a dynamic robot that has been funded by DARPA, bringing together an interdisciplinary team of experts, including engineers and scientists from Bell Helicopter, AAI Corporation, Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, and Woodward HRT.

Boston Dynamics’ “Cheetah” holds the landspeed record for legged robots

At its demonstration launch last month, the legged robot completed trotting and jogging mobility runs, perception visualization, and a soldier-bounded autonomy demonstration.

Anyone from the engineering fraternity watching the demonstration video at the top of this article would be awed at what has been achieved in the space of two years – beyond that of other Boston Dynamic creations such as the Cheetah (see video below), which can reportedly run faster than Usain Bolt.

And of course, there’s LS3’s famous predecessor, BigDog, the most advanced rough-terrain robot on Earth:

BigDog in action

For the average citizen, understanding how the LS3 works are something of a mystery, as it looks all too alive. The following are just a few of its main bits and pieces:

  • On-board computer: this is capable of sensing, actuator control, and communications
  • Control system: this keeps the robot balanced, navigates, and regulates its energetics as there are changes to environmental conditions
  • Batteries: these are long-lasting lithium polymer batteries
  • Remote operation: wireless communications allow for remote operation and data logging
  • Legs: a range of motion and climbing performance is possible with dynamic locomotion gaits powered by electric motors
  • Sensors for locomotion: these offer joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load sensor detection
  • Other sensors: this monitor the internal state of the robot, such as its hydraulic pressure, oil temperature, engine functions, battery charge etcetera
  • Perception: the LS3 is equipped with environmental awareness and knowledge of rough-terrain (cold, hot, dirty, and wet environments)
  • Gyroscope: this is a device for measuring or maintaining orientation, based on the principles of angular momentum
  • GPS: the LS3 uses a global positioning system for navigation
  • LIDAR (light detection and ranging): this optical remote sensing technology is used to measure the distance to a target by illuminating it with light
  • Stereo Vision System: visible/infra-red (IR) cameras and illuminators provide a variety of views from the robot

Now, putting all those features together, we have a dynamic robot that can perceive its environment and react accordingly.

These uninhabited ground drones aim to be able to go anywhere people and animals can go, whether the terrain is rock fields, mud, sand, vegetation, railroad tracks, upslopes, or stairways.

It would be no stretch of the imagination to think these robots, which can travel up to 11km/h on a flat surface, might one day find themselves policing our streets and neighborhoods.

But the feature that is the stuff of nightmares is the drone’s ability to follow a human leader and track members of a squad through rugged terrain. This may one day lead to drones autonomously tracking down people from “most wanted” lists in suburbia.

U.S. Marines' Newest Robot - Legged Squad Support System (LS3) - YouTube

The LS3 Dynamic Robot

Our children will be raised in a world where their nightmares roam real streets, and the line between detecting sci-fi from reality will be blurred.

While Chewbacca’s walker in Return of the Jedi moved through the forest, firing laser blasts at unsuspecting stormtroopers, and destroying other Imperial walkers, there won’t be any Chewies in these drones, just a whole lot of artificial intelligence.

The LS3 Dynamic Robot

These mechanical monsters might help turn the tide of battle during wars on Earth, so long as they are driven by those on the right side. And that is an entirely different question, isn’t it?

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