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Marines Test LS3 Robot Mule During RIMPAC
Legged Squad Support Systems (LS3) designed by Boston Dynamics, funded by DARPA, is regarded as a mechanical brother-in-arms.
By Judith Pfeffer - Filed Jul 16, 2014

Brandon Dieckmann poses with LS3. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Matthew Callahan)

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This summer's Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), the world's largest international maritime warfare exercise, is nothing new, but one of the soldiers is. That's because the soldier is a robot – the latest and greatest from Boston Dynamics, DARPA and Google.

As a news release explains, "The LS3 is experimental technology being tested by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab during the Advanced Warfighting Experiment. It is programmed to follow an operator through terrain, carrying heavy loads like water and food … There are multiple technologies being tested during RIMPAC, the largest maritime exercise in the Pacific region. This year's RIMPAC features 22 countries and around 25,000 people."

As Smithsonian reports, "the Legged Squad Support Systems (LS3) is joining five young Marines in the Advanced Warfighting Experiment portion of the month-long exercise."

With its computer vision, LS3 is following the team on Oahu while toting some 400 pounds of gear, the first time the DARPA-funded LS3 is being put to the test in a military setting.

LS3 joins some 25,000 human personnel in the Hawaiian islands as infantry members take training in a wide variety of blessedly fictional catastrophes.

According to the military, members of the infantry are more than accepting of  LS3 and sometimes call it Cujo after the fearsome monster in the eponymous Stephen King horror novel. One of the robot's operators "says the robotic mule has become like a dog to him."

That's no surprise. When robotics consultant Julie Carpenter last year interviewed military personnel who regularly use robots, her results were similar.

"They were very clear it was a tool, but at the same time, patterns in their responses indicated they sometimes interacted with the robots in ways similar to a human or pet," Carpenter said.

Such affection is potentially a problem in combat scenarios, Carptenter reported to PBS last year.

"If you feel emotionally attached to something, it will affect your decision-making," she said after interviewing ordnance experts.

She found the humans often anthropomorphized their robots, naming them and showing empathy toward the machines. "They would say they were angry when a robot became disabled because it is an important tool, but then they would add 'poor little guy,' or they'd say they had a funeral for it," Carpenter said. 

Be that as it may, the team now hanging out with LS3 is pleased that state-of-the-art technology can be used in the field as one team member commented. 

"It would pretty crazy to see a later version of it 15 or 20 years down the line and be able to say I was one of the first groups that tested it and brought it to the field on one of the bigger training exercises," Brandon Dieckmann said. "It’s pretty surreal."

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