The US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's (DARPA's) Legged Squad Support System (LS3) has demonstrated a number of new capabilities during a two-week trial held in conjunction with the US Marine Corps' Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) at Fort Pickett, Virginia.
DARPA is developing the LS3 to solve what programme manager Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hitt said was a big military problem - lightening the load of soldiers and marines. With personnel regularly carrying in excess of 100 lb (45 kg), Lt Col Hitt said that the aim is to develop a system that can carry 400 lb of equipment over 32 km with no need for intervention during a 24-hour period. It must also be able to keep pace with the forces it is supporting, accompanying them wherever they go.
Lt Col Hitt said that the control and monitoring of the platform must also not increase the cognitive burden, and, therefore, a high level of automation is required in place of hands-on control. The LS3 utilises the Tactical Robotic Controller.
The three areas of focus for the programme are mobility, perception, and human/robot interaction.
Lt Col Hitt said that five new capabilities were demonstrated during the trials at Fort Pickett: verbal commands; night operation; 'go to' orders; perception of environment; and intelligent foot placement.
The voice commands, he explained, have been developed to provide a robust control framework within which the operators can work. "Instead of developing an infinite number of voice commands we want to provide the user with 10 very robust and reliable commands and allow the user to adapt by using these 10 commands in different series to do pretty much anything", commands can range from simple tasks such as 'switch on' to more advanced capabilities such as 'follow me', Lt Col Hitt said.
The night-operations element of the trials saw the platform operate in 0 per cent illumination and successfully navigate to a designated GPS location, Lt Col Hitt said, noting that the LS3 generated and navigated a path autonomously.