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Field Testing a Four-Legged Robot

by Ward Carroll on December 26, 2012

DARPA recently completed field testing of its LS3 four-legged robot system at Fort Pickett in central Virginia.  An agency press release reported the following:

Working with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL), researchers from DARPA’s LS3 program demonstrated new advances in the robot’s control, stability and maneuverability, including “Leader Follow” decision making, enhanced roll recovery, exact foot placement over rough terrain, the ability to maneuver in an urban environment, and verbal command capability.

Here’s a video that shows some of the action:

Pretty cool, no doubt; but the thing that jumps out at us here at DT World HQ is the robot is sort of loud, which certainly would be a big concern if you were trying to sneak up on the enemy.  (Maybe they’ll figure that out as they go along.)

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

SwissFreek December 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm

I remember being told by some of the guys that work on this project (went to school with a few of them and got a tour when I applied for a job there) that their focus is on the walking aspect of the robot, and that once they had worked out the hard parts they would worry about swapping out the power pack for something quieter.


Phono December 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm

in comparessant with older Videos one does hear it. it seems they did quite a successfull job so far.


steve December 28, 2012 at 12:12 am

Sounds like a perfect squad leader to intercept the IED's benig used today to kill and maim so many of our troops…


TonyC December 26, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Looks like the soldiers gear would have been wet and dirty when the robot rolled in the creek. The robot is cool for what it does, but needs better terrain analysis.


Warfighter December 29, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Soldiers' gear tends to be wet and dirty the minute it gets out to the field. Situation no change.


Byron January 3, 2013 at 2:45 am

Soldiers already get dirty in the field. It's the pack's job to keep the contents safe and clean. It's hard to find a Soldier or Marine who hasn't fallen in a ditch at least once on a patrol.


Phono December 26, 2012 at 2:30 pm

wow. its impressive. They did a good job. Seams easy to the bot what would be an disaster with a pickup-truck.

But I have a question, what are those pink markings at the trees, like at 2:00min of the Video? Is this forestry, or something other?

other Question, could one ride this ?!


viulenz December 26, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Why not use the good old mule technology developed thousands of years ago by mother nature?


Sgt. Rock December 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Im with you on that- this seems like a waste of money. Mules and horses work just fine. All three go down when shot… I really don't see how this is justifiable.


yang December 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm

small minds think alike


octopusmagnificens December 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm

It reaches a good speed at 3:07.


ltfunk4 December 26, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Yay tens of millions of dollars to reinvent the cow. Can the wheel be far behind ?


M R December 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm

A needless waste of money, what will this truly offer us on the battlefield? Dumb!


yang December 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm

You realize this is R&D right? How small is your mind that you can't see the future possibilities?


EW3 December 26, 2012 at 4:23 pm

A four legged version of a future two legged version.

Think it of the Terminator's pet doggy.


WPG January 4, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Yeah the terminator was the assassin of Skynet, it looked human to intergrate. but thats where its flaws lied. Real killer robots would be like and improve on insects. They are just better equipped


PrometheusGoneWild December 26, 2012 at 4:29 pm

While I am a fan of the walking robot research, for a "follow me" robot a six wheel design with batteries and a fuel cell would be a little more practical…..
Or better yet the Army mascot the Mule works pretty well also.
Of course in a few years as the technology gets better, something like this could be dropped off in the forest/jungle/desert and sit until a vehicle or people come by and then ask for a human somewhere in the world to review the situation and then given a command to engage with weapons. There could be a lot of them working together.
Airborne UAV's can stay up in the sky for days. These could stay in the field for months…..Years…..


Chris December 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Big Dog's back! I don't get what DT means though by saying it's loud. In that second shot the camera had to be within 50 feet of it and you couldn't hear a thing. Besides isn't this just supposed to carry gear while traveling? I would think if you were trying to sneak up on people you'd want to leave this behind anyways. Even with a totally silent motor a four legged hulking robot isn't going to be that stealthy smashing through the woods.


Byron January 3, 2013 at 2:53 am

Well, to be fair, it's hard to judge how loud something is based on the mic on a camera, it's not going to give you a good idea of how far that noise actually travels. But I agree, this device is not intended to be silent, it's supposed to be a workhorse, a mule to carry gear. And how often do we have soldiers sneaking up on insurgents in 'Stan?


WPG January 4, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Guarenteed this problem is easily solved and they are more concentrated on the tech/sensors/coding of the beast than the noise. that will be a easy edition for stealth missions.


Andrew December 26, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Consider that in 30 years this thing may have a faster overground speed then a human in a constant run, and you start to the see the potential.

Progress takes time.


Belesari December 26, 2012 at 7:34 pm

+1 internets to you sir.


ben December 26, 2012 at 7:42 pm


at anyone who says "why not just use wheels"
two words: Mountains & ravines…

at anyone who says "why not just use mules"
do you have any idea how many lbs of feed a mule eats? Forget foraging, how much grass are you expecting to find 10,000 ft up the side of a mountain? Plus the mules need feed even when they aren't hauling supplies.
If a mule is carrying nothing but feed, it can only carry enough to feed itself for 7-8 days.


Warfighter December 29, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Not to mention the time it takes to train troops up to properly use mules when decide to be stubborn or wander somewhere they aren't supposed to, or get frightened by gunfire, or decide to give up walking up a mountain side because the procurement guys purchased city mules/donkeys rather than country/mountain ones (true stories to all)


Earlydawn December 26, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Last time I checked, you also can't wire a mule with modular sensors and on-board processing. Or use it as a stable heavy weapons platform. Or airdrop it..


Byron January 3, 2013 at 2:55 am

Yeah but wouldn't you wanna see them try to airdrop an ass?
Hang on a sec, hasn't the Army been doing that for years? ;)


Hunter76 December 26, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Excellent! What the Pilot's Lobby always forgets– Unmanned systems become cheaper, manned systems become more expensive. Think of how our computers have become cheaper and more powerful.

The biggest threat to fighting robots is moral opposition, esp from Europe, which sees automated killing as immoral.

As for the device itself– nice, but they didn't really nail the walking. The limbs look very mammal-like, and rear ones move well. But the front legs look crippled– bent back at the "wrists" too much. Mammal front legs walk with the wrists more extended and essentially on their fingers. If this system had any efficiency, we'd see it in nature.


paperpushermj December 26, 2012 at 9:58 pm

What's wrong with the Kiss method of hauling gear for troops. Look up Game Carts their hand pulled rick shaw type carts that are quiet, don't need to carry fuel for them and work very well enough to carry 300/400lbs.


blight_ December 26, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Ricks will work on smooth paths, but if you're cutting through a narrow rock path or moving into terrain that may have recently experienced rockfall, have fun dragging a rickshaw. A living mule might be better.


paperpushermj December 27, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Granted in the Mountains of Afghanistan you will be the one carrying the load.


Ronnie December 26, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Needs big pores,feet. A tail also..it helps dogs balance. On YouTube there is a vide with a machine that has a tail and it maintained its balance.
A tail that wagged would cheer up the marines when they feel completely fucked.


Mark December 26, 2012 at 10:19 pm

The legged version is limited in its mobility. Wheels work much better for the vast majority of applications and they are much quieter. There is no way I would want this incredibly noisy monster following me in combat. If it had six articulated legs with soft-tired wheels on their ends, the wheels could be locked and “legged” movement employed when the situation called for it. The rest of the time, it could run on its wheels and be much faster and completely silent. Someday when they perfect the rubber-type bands that contract with applied voltage like muscle tissue, robots with arms and legs will become practical. Until then, the arms and legs using mechanical servos are hideously ineffective for combat applications.


heehaw December 27, 2012 at 12:29 am

Junk it.


Vaporhead December 27, 2012 at 7:53 am

Yes, because you are all knowing what the military may need to help assist our troops on the ground. You probably would have said the same thing whenever the military was developing the "internet" decades ago.


C-Low December 27, 2012 at 10:34 am

In a few more years and tweaking to give resilience and speed this thing has some crazy potential.

-Carrying all the gear so the over loaded soldiers can get back some mobility. If a person can walk the path this thing should be able to, that is an idea just not possible with wheels or tracks.

-Think a 50 or mark 19 strapped on its back. It moves up turns sideways and sits down as a operator grabs the reigns so to speak and starts laying fire (mobile fighting position). Talk about taking back our fires advantage (without waiting on air) on those patrols were the vehicle trails stop.
-Even better Light infantry Calvary would play well in areas were the terrain just doesn't support the use of our vehicles. Our emphasis on mobility and speed of movement is killed and turns into a trade off in ruff terrain like Afghanistan. Doing patrols mounted rather than humping foot I bet would make allot of happy soldiers, and when the sh*t hits that burst energy tank would be on full ready. Then add in range speed and maybe our soldiers could turn the tables on the talibs home turf turning every engagement into a death match as they couldn't get away without being run down. Hit and Run only works when the Run is viable.

Mules are slow, require food, raising/training, special housing, breeding, cannot be palleted for shipping, cannot be warehoused in peacetime, cannot be mass produced on short notice, and in general are basically like soldiers requiring a good amount of support for living. Robots more specifically machinery are like vehicles cheaper to produce, store, deploy, repair, and maintain.

Once worked out this thing will run faster, run longer, carry more, be more resilient to damage/wear, be warehoused for peacetime, pallet container shipped, air dropable. All things mules or horses could do plus more, we left hose and buggy for the car for good reasons.

Instead of trying to see this as some radical terminator (it is not) think of this thing as a ATV with a revolutionary drive train that can operate in terrain wheels/tracks, just cannot go.


WPG January 4, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Imagine they build aircraft that have a huge 3D printer in them and they just keep dropping them from the sky as they build them….. you will see the craft being refueled not just with jet fuel but 3D Printing material too.


top dog December 27, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Well, I guess I won't be getting the grand kids one of them for next Christmas….thats for sure!!


TommyGun January 2, 2013 at 5:28 pm

you'll never know !! chinese has known talent for making fake stuff


Andrew December 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm

When will the desk jockeys and manufacturers finally listen to those of us who this is marketed to.


And for you internet commandos who think this is a good idea, have you ever even set foot in country? How about daily patrols? Operations that last weeks? Combat? Firefights? Anything at all? I don't think so. This robot is an advancement of technology, and deserves it's credit. But it does NOT need to fill the role it is being pushed in to. For you who think you know better and say that this is better than a Mule or Horse, you are sadly mistake and have problem never worked with pack animals nor the technology we are issued in combat. I'll take low tech over high tech any day of the week regardless of any and all other factors.


Andrew December 28, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Probably, not problem. And to make myself clear, if I was ever handed this thing in country, I would make sure it somehow dies before it ever leaves the wire. Or I would simply put a bullet in it.


Byron January 3, 2013 at 3:06 am

Today? Yes, absolutely. But no one is saying this technology is ready. And there's no denying that eventually, this will be a far superior way to fill that particular role. They will be quieter, more stable, faster, and when they take a round, they won't go down. And even when they do, they can be repaired. They can be stored without needing "fuel" and do not require space or care while not in use, they can be packed as tight as they need to be in some steel container until the next mission.
This isn't a product or a replacement. This is just research. Calm down man, you won't be seeing these Devil Dogs anytime soon. But some day, they will figure out how to make these live up to their potential, and at that point it'll be impossible to rationally argue that a mule is better than what this research will one day bring us.


Tiger December 26, 2012 at 11:08 pm
blight_ December 26, 2012 at 11:53 pm

You can store a bunch of robots in a container when you're not using 'em and hook them up to a generator to charge them.

A mule eats three square a day and the hay will probably come from an American vendor and get shipped through Pakistan, or Halliburton buys Paki hay and charges the US government American rates.


Tiger December 27, 2012 at 12:43 am
viulenz December 27, 2012 at 5:43 am

You're right. Hopefully these robots won't need as much logistics as the animals.


Telvis December 27, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Machines generally need a lot more care and attention, namely they are not self healing or self feeding. I work with a fairly large computer maintenance contract, ~7000 servers. They don't move, and they still fail. The only thing saving our bacon is built in redundancy. The electro-cow will have its uses, but its a niche. You're going to carry around a generator to charge this, not to mention bags of servos and gears, comm equipment, sensors… and you'll need another electro cow to carry them. As for "a mule needs food and water." Well, so the soldiers they support, and unless you're trekking across the Sahara, there's often scrub to eat. Maybe in certain types of terrain this would be useful, but in most of the world, some mules or camels would do the trick. Plus you can eat them if the chips are really down :) Now if you were going to mount an M60 and a grenade launcher on this and guide it do actually do something other than haul gear, now we're talking.


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