DARPA takes bigger BigDog out for walkies

Boston Dynamics' supersized AlphaDog gets let off the leash in a forest. This is one monster robot--check out the DARPA video for yourself.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
War horse: Boston Dynamics' AlphaDog is designed to haul gear for soldiers. And scare you silly. DARPA

Remember the original BigDog? That funny robot pack animal? Well, a supersized version has been let off the leash--and it ain't so funny anymore.

We last saw the brute when Boston Dynamics unveiled the AlphaDog prototype last year. Even in a harness, it looked pretty mean and could haul 400 pounds without even panting.

This latest incarnation, though, makes its predecessor look quite poodle-like. As seen in the video below, DARPA recently took AlphaDog, aka the Legged Squad Support System, or LS3, out for a walk in the woods and probably scared off every living creature for miles around.

AlphaDog goes where wheels don't. DARPA

The quadruped machine has been outfitted with a raft of sensors and a truss-frame head that makes Megatron look beautiful by comparison.

In the outdoor exercise, AlphaDog went up and down slopes, correcting its balance when it slipped. It also used its "eyes" to follow a human around, distinguishing between obstacles such as rocks and trees.

Over the next 18 months, DARPA, along with Army and Marine participation, will test its ability to carry 400 pounds on a 20-mile journey in 24 hours without refueling. It will also autonomously make course corrections and track a specific person or object.

The robot could serve as a mobile recharging station for soldiers, but its main role would be hauling gear for troops, who sometimes have to carry 100 pounds or more, which can reduce their effectiveness.

"LS3 seeks to have the responsiveness of a trained animal and the carrying capacity of a mule," DARPA quoted the program manager, Army Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, as saying.

Depending on its size, a horse or mule can carry some 240 pounds. AlphaDog, though, still has a very noisy motor, and obviously it could give away a unit's position very quickly.

We'll see if that gets remedied. In the meantime, AlphaDog will embed with Marines in field exercises at the end of its testing.

By then, it could have the ability to respond to verbal commands from troops, such as "sit," "come here," and "sic 'em."

Okay, not the last one. Not yet, anyway.