Meet the Marines' Humdrum Toy: A Headless Miniature Pony Robot

By Alexis C. Madrigal

The future doesn't always arrive with a gasp and a boom like Skynet in Terminator. No, sometimes it's more like Office Space

At least that's the idea I get watching this video of the Marines' testing the Legged Squad Support System. DARPA built the LS3 to act as an autonomous pack horse that "can carry 400 lbs of a squad’s load, follow squad members through rugged terrain and interact with troops in a natural way, similar to a trained animal and its handler." 

Its headless form has always disturbed me in its ... headlessness. (Like, did Haruki Murakami design these things in a fever dream? Robots galloping across the plains.)

And yet, in the hands of real Marines, it sounds like they're testing a new network printer out, or maybe putting the office fob system through its paces. 

"The experimentation phase is in full swing right now," said Brigadier General Kevin Killea with all the emotion of a building manager introducing new trash chutes.

"And we'll come back and we'll look at all the data and we'll get the feedback from all the Marines about how they feel it can support them best."

One can imagine the questionnaire: 

* On a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you love being followed around the forest by a massive headless pack bot? 

* On a scale of 1 to 10, how many nightmares did you have about the sound of its legs? 

* How likely would you be to recommend the headless pack bot to a friend?

"It's a great idea. I'm glad they're coming out," said Corporal Mitchell Arnold Anderson (as if he was talking about the latest Android operating system).

"It just shows the Marine Corps is changing and times are changing. In 15 or 20 years, stuff like this should be everywhere in the military."

No biggie. 

Just what DARPA calls "the culmination of a decade of research in perception and autonomy with programs like DARPA’s Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle-Perception for Off-Road Robotics Integration (UPI) program, mobility work with DARPA’s 'Big Dog' and significant advances in natural human-robot interface such as voice recognition."

The Marines and DARPA are working through a two-year refinement and testing period, which will come to an end in summer of 2014. 

Future people-who-don't-like-to-swear will exclaim, "Galloping robots!" (DARPA).

 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/11/meet-the-marines-humdrum-toy-a-headless-miniature-pony-robot/281678/