Video: Pentagon's robotic pack mule follows orders

Posted by Shane McGlaun

For years, DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has heavily invested in the development of robots for various military missions.   

One of the key tasks the Pentagon wants to use robots for ASAP? To carry heavy equipment or injured soldiers off the battlefield. Recently, DARPA showed off its LS3 robotic pack mule in the video below.

The robot - which at this stage resembles a creepy headless mule - responds to voice commands from an operator. The pack mule project has thus far racked up five years of research with a budget of $54 million.

The primary control system for the robot? A headset worn by an operator who issues voice command. The robot is capable of powering up when the operator says, "engine on" and will fall in with soldiers in formation when  the operator says, "follow tight." Indeed, the LS3 is designed to follow the operator on exactly the same path as its human counterparts.

However, the operator can also say "follow corridor," prompting the robot to generate a path that's most efficient for itself while following the soldier. According to Army Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hitt, the pack mule was designed to respond to voice commands because DARPA doesn't believe it would make sense to force the soldier to keep their eyes on joysticks and computer screens to control the'bot.

"We need to make sure that the robot also is smart, like a trained animal," Hitt explained. 

The robot is equipped with a laser rangefinder, specialized cameras and stereo vision - all of which helps it to keep close track of its human operator. Ultimately, the LS3 is expected to be capable of hauling up to 400 pounds of gear, walking for 20 miles and operating 24 hours at a time without human intervention.

Currently, the robotic system is programmed to respond to 10 basic voice commands,  including "stop,", "follow tight," and "engine off," among others.

DARPA is slated to continue testing the robotic mule and plans on running the LS3 in various geographuc locations and climatic conditions. 

It should also be noted that LS3 is somewhat related to the fast cheetah robot previously covered on TG Daily.