U.S. Marines ditch support robot after realizing it would get soldiers killed
04/04/2016 / By newstarget / Comments
U.S. Marines ditch support robot after realizing it would get soldiers killed


What began as a $32 million, two-and-a-half year robot development project for the US Marine Corps ultimately turned out to be a dud. When the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) unveiled their prototype, futuristic combat mule, they envisioned a stealthy combat-ready robot that could travel long distances in the bush while assisting weary soldiers on the battlefield.

The design, by Google Inc.’s Boston Dynamics, has been featured at various military trade shows for high ranking Marine officials, but the advanced project was recently scrapped altogether. The LS3 (Legged Squad Support Systems) was created to haul in supplies to soldiers in the field or to assist wounded soldiers unable to carry their weight.

Robotic pack mule too noisy for stealth missions

The final model was capable of carrying 400 pounds for up to 20 miles on rocky terrain. The mule could last about 24 hours moving at a constant speed and it could take visual and verbal cues from soldiers on the ground. It required no special controller. The only problem with the robot: it relied on a gas powered engine that is so loud that it would inevitably give away soldiers’ location in the bush.

“As Marines were using it, there was the challenge of seeing the potential possibility because of the limitations of the robot itself,” Kyle Olson, a spokesman for the Warfighting Lab, told Military.com. “They took it as it was: a loud robot that’s going to give away their position.”

A spokesman for the Marine Corps said “”The Marine Corps isn’t looking for a fair fight,” and added, “the necessity of autonomous, unmanned, and robotic capabilities” is to gain a “tactical edge through technological overmatch.” In other words, the LS3 (Legged Squad Support Systems) is the trial run for much more sophisticated systems to one day be used on the battlefield. The LS3 is being called a “waypoint along a path of discovery and development” for futuristic war robots that can assist soldiers on the battlefield. The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is overseeing the projects.


When the first models of the pack mule failed to live up to their hype, a second $10 million contract was awarded to DARPA to develop a quieter power supply and stronger armor to protect the machine from heavy fire. In 2012, the Marines almost approved the enhanced version of the LS3. The prototype was unveiled at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia but it was still too loud and was considered too risky for actual battlefield operations.

In 2014, at a large military exercise called the Rim of the Pacific, the enhanced LS3 endured high profile field tests, demonstrating its ability to take commands and cross rocky ground. At the end of the event, the Marines decided the pack mule wasn’t practical. It could potentially become cumbersome if it broke down in the field and would be hard to repair. Traditional Marine patrol recognized how hard it would be to actually integrate the machine into their platoons. In the end, the gas powered engine was just too noisy.

A second DARPA robot called Spot was unveiled not long thereafter. It ran on a much quieter, electric power supply, but it had its own limitations. For one, it could only carry 40 pound loads. It could only be commanded using a controller. When the robot was put to the test in Quantico, Virginia a little over a year ago, it could handle rugged terrain but its slight frame wasn’t combat ready or capable of carrying heavy loads.

Right now, the Marine’s Warfighting Lab is working on developing specialty unmanned vehicles and drones that could bring medical assistance to wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

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