Miltery Robotic Dog under field testing

On first viewing Boston Dynamics’ latest creation, the LS3 (Legged Squad Support System), I could not help but be taken back to the AT-AT (All Terrain Armoured Transport) walker, as depicted in the Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back.

But it is the AT-TE (All Terrain Tactical Enforcer) walker that appears in Attack of the Clones which strikes the most eerie resemblance to the LS3 concept, as the two images below demonstrate.
The AT-TE is a six-legged walker that appears in Attack of the Clones Revenge of the Sith, and The Clone Wars multimedia campaign. starwars.wikia.com
Boston Dynamics LS3 Concept. Boston Dynamics

Star Wars toys have become, it seems, real-world creations. The only discernible difference is that the AT-TE is a six legged beast, while the LS3 has been dubbed the “packed mule”.

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 war fighters into battle, carrying 180kg payloads and freeing up troops that would otherwise be carrying such equipment themselves.

The demonstration video below gives a sense of the LS3 in action. LS3 – Legged Squad Support System Demonstration Video

One cannot help thinking this packed mule could serve 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.

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.

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, part of an art installation by sculptor Bill Willers. Built by Skulls Unlimited International Inc. Sklmsta
The LS3 Dynamic Robot. Unmanned Systems Technology

Earlier this month Army Lt. Col. Joe Hitt. DARPA and the US Marine Corps’s (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) program manager said:

[t]he vision for LS3 is to combine the capabilities of a pack mule with the intelligence of a trained animal.

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 up 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.

At its demonstration launch last month the legged robot completed trotting and jogging mobility runs, perception visualisation 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