Soldier, Take That 'Platform' for a Walk!


By Tim Moran

I have a golden retriever named Lady who is as much a rug as she is a living, moving canine. She must be forced to go out in the yard alone. Seriously. If we don’t push her out to do her business, she comes perilously close to doing it indoors.

If you go out with her, or if my daughter and her friends are on the trampoline or playing ball out back, then Lady is happy to cavort around—at least for a bit. Five or six passes throwing the tennis ball for her to retrieve are her limit before she stands on the stoop looking longingly at the door to be let back in so she can resume the rug position.

DARPA would not like my dog—not at all.

According to a recent posting on its site, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has adopted its own dogs to play with—Boston Dynamics’ AlphaDog robots—which the agency is calling the “Legged Squad Support System (LS3).” These “dogs” are being trained as intelligent “pack mules.”

Says DARPA: “The goal of the LS3 program is to demonstrate that a legged robot can unburden dismounted squad members by carrying their gear, autonomously following them through rugged terrain, and interpreting verbal and visual commands.”

A video on the site shows the LS3s in action. The weirdly cool robo-dogs actually move more like mechanized Lipizzaner Stallions Transformers than dogs, but you can see how they’d be pretty good at lugging stuff around in the field.

Apparently, the LS3s have been trained to “follow the leader,” walk up to 3 miles per hour over difficult terrain, and speed along at five mph on a flat surface. DARPA notes that the “platforms” (DARPA-speak for robo-dogs) have “matured” enough through testing and improvements that they have “started to run through the paces similar to what they could one day experience carrying gear for a squad of Marines or Soldiers.”