Using mules to lighten a human’s load has been an eons-old practice. The United States Military has already begun trials of using these quadrupeds to carry a soldier’s equipment. However, these ‘animals’ aren’t the standard blood-n-bones kind, but drink gasoline to run and are equipped with artificial limbs, motorized movement and a computer brain.
The U.S military soldiers will soon have robotic mules developed by robotics firm Boston Dynamics. These mechanical beasts of burden have been undergoing stringent tests by the U.S. Marines for the last three years and they have expressed willingness to let these ‘animals’ trail them into the battlefields of the future.
A typical soldier carries loads of body armor, weapons and other equipment that weighs anywhere between 20Kgs to 50 kg. Lugging around such a heavy burden severely limits the soldier’s peak performance. Moreover, it restricts quick movements and tires the soldier too. Smaller automated vehicles have been considered in the past, but they tend to break down and make noise. Using electrical batteries can significantly reduce the noise emission, but restricts the range.
The army needed something that can follow the soldier in any terrain, in any weather and had the dexterity and sure-footedness of an animal. Couple this with the load-bearing capacity, a robotic mule seemed like a great idea and Boston Dynamics picked it up.
The Legged Squad Support System, or LS3, has been developed as a future robotic pack mule for the U.S military and is being currently trialed at the annual Rim of the Pacific military drill in Hawaii. It can be described as a headless cross between a goat and a pantomime horse. But despite its appearance, the robotic mule can easily carry a load of 400lbs (181 Kg) for more than 20 miles with just a single tank of gas, reported Sky News.
Interestingly, the solider needn’t constantly give instructions as he merely has to wear a hip bracelet to which the robotic mule is wireless tethered. The robotic mule can be commanded to strictly follow the soldier, and there is a facility to maintain distance as deemed appropriate by the soldier, reported Popular Mechanics.
The robotic mule has been designed keeping in mind the uncertain terrain and can easily walk over rocks and self-adjust its balance without human in intervention. Its dynamic balance system is able to even recover from an impact to the torso or legs.
Using robotics in the army is pretty routine as it’s not only active 24-7, but allows the army to send in these sentries into hostile territory without risking the lives of actual soldiers. But once in a while the army does get such mundane, though ultra-useful hardware.
[Image Credit | Harry Harvey IV, Joe Pappalardo]