Boston Dynamics has just won a $32 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop LS3, a walking robot. Also known as the Legged Squad Support System, the purpose of the LS3 is to serve as a robotic mule to aid in combat operations by carrying supplies over rough terrain.
LS3 is still in the early concept stage, and so far it resembles its Boston Dynamics robot cousins, Big Dog and Little Dog, which in turn recall those legged Empire tanks from Star Wars, so it’s no stretch to imagine outfitting a robot mule with weapons some day (after all, we already use airborne drones), but in addition to its combat mission the LS3 may also have an important role to play in disaster response and a more sustainable future.
A Closer Look at LS3
The LS3 will carry about 400 pounds of gear and according to an email from Boston Dynamics it may be powered by an internal combustion engine, though hybrid electric power may also be in the mix. Along with carrying freight the LS3 could also serve as a mobile auxiliary power generator to recharge batteries in the field. That could provide a gain for energy efficiency by reducing the need to transport conventional field generators. TARDEC (the army’s vehicle research agency) is developing a Tactical Hybrid Electric Power Station that can switch between diesel, sun, wind, and battery storage, so it’s also possible that LS3-like combat robots may eventually draw more on renewable energy than on fossil fuels.
LS3 and Green Missions
Military technology has a way of drifting into the civilian world, and aside from the possibility of a sustainable fuel angle the LS3 brings flexibility and manueverability to the table. That could come into play in the growing number of civilian green jobs for robots, which includes everything from water main repair robots to solar powered gardening robots. A walking robot would also be ideal for delivering humanitarian aid to remote areas where wheeled vehicles and air drops are impractical and pack animals are in short supply, for example as a robot substitute for camel power. That comes right back around to the U.S military, which has recognized that climate change will bring about an increase in the need for military resources devoted to humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
Image: Courtesy of Boston Dynamics.
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