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U.S. Military Takes Robotic Mule Out for a Stroll

2 minute read

Meet Legged Squat Support System (LS3), a robotic mule capable of carrying up to 400 pounds of cargo for 20 miles without refueling.

The U.S. Marine Corps showed off LS3—nicknamed Cujo—on Saturday at Hawaii’s Kahuku Training Area during the Advanced Warfighting Experiment portion of RIMPAC 2014, a biennial multinational maritime exercise, according to a statement. Cujo can traverse rocky terrain with its lifelike gallop, and is programmed to follow an operator and detect surrounding objects with its swiveling head of sensors. Marines demonstrated Cujo’s tricks by using it to conduct resupply missions across terrain difficult to traverse by normal vehicles.

The RIMPAC demonstration is the latest effort in LS3’s platform-refinement testing, which began in July 2012, after 5 years of LS3’s concept development by Boston Dynamics under DARPA. Recent tests have afforded the $2 million robotic mule a tour of military bases in California and Massachusetts, and of course, much pampering and TLC after intense combat simulations on difficult terrain wore it down.

“I was surprised how well it works,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon Dieckmann, who watched YouTube clips of LS3 before joining the infantry and being randomly selected to operate the robot during RIMPAC. “I thought it was going to be stumbling around and lose its footing, but it’s actually proven to be pretty reliable and pretty rugged. It has a bit of a problem negotiating obliques and contours of hills.”

Indeed, like all pets, Cujo has a few issues. It makes loud noises while moving, currently limiting the robot to logistical uses like resupply missions and cargo carrying, instead of tactical maneuvers. Cujo also can successfully cross only 70-80% of all terrain traversable by Marines. It has no set date for deployment, as engineers continue to improve the robot.

But the lack of an official timeline isn’t something the Marines are too worried about, as commanding LS3 “feels like playing Call of Duty.” Even better, to them, Cujo has become “like a dog.”

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