By Jason Venter | 09-12-2012 | 4:00PM
Some of the most memorable war cartoons feature Donald Duck having adventures in the military. Developed as propaganda, the animated shorts depicted the strains of military life with humorous exaggeration that somehow made the military seem exciting even while revealing what a grueling chore it could be. In some scenes, Donald was forced to climb rugged terrain while carrying supplies that seemed to match his own weight… and then some.
Here in the real world of 2012, the issue posed by heavy gear is very real. Soldiers need to be ready for combat at all times while they’re in the field, but that becomes more difficult when they drain their energy carrying around heavy equipment. Fortunately, help is on the way in the form of the LS3 (Legged Squad Support System) from DARPA.
The LS3 is designed to carry as much as 400 pounds of gear, and great pains have been exercised in order to ensure that the mechanical support system behaves in a manner that complements military activities. It also bears somewhat of a resemblance to the quadrupedal Crying Wolf featured in Konami's Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (see our side-by-side comparison shots if you're viewing this story within the NVision app).
Development for the LS3 has been underway for some time, and in January of 2012 a prototype successfully completed an outdoor “assignment” by using its perception abilities while climbing and descending a hill.
Those test results, while encouraging, merely represent a starting point. In July of this year, DARPA began a two-year process that will lead to further refinement and (if successful) will find the model joining an actual group of marines conducting field exercises.
The four-legged machines can already carry around weight, and simple but useful secondary functions (mobile battery charging for troops, for instance) should work readily enough, so the real emphasis as testing continues is on the unit’s path-finding capabilities. Three settings—leader-follower tight, leader-follower corridor, and go-to-waypoint—will determine how closely the machine follows troops as they negotiate terrain, hopefully allowing soldiers to remain focused on what they’re doing without having to compensate for a clumsy robotic ally.
The robotic support contraption makes a lot of noise and moves like an impatient but geriatric horse, which would prevent it from playing a role in any stealth missions, but it should serve as a nice ally in hilly terrain that vehicles can’t easily traverse. Watch the video above if you’d like to see it in action.