Every light infantry soldier has dreamed of a way to lighten their combat load. Boston Dynamics is attempting to do just that with their product the Legged Squad Support System (LS3). According to Boston Dynamics, “LS3 is a rough-terrain robot designed to go anywhere Marines and Soldiers go on foot, helping carry their load. Each LS3 carries up to 400 lbs of gear and enough fuel for a 20-mile mission lasting 24 hours. LS3 automatically follows its leader using computer vision, so it does not need a dedicated driver. It also travels to designated locations using terrain sensing and GPS. LS3 began a 2-year field testing phase in 2012. LS3 is funded by DARPA and the US Marine Corps.”
On the surface this seems like a really cool idea. Have a robot carry your non-combat essential gear so you are lighter, more agile, and can concentrate on combat. I can tell you first hand carrying 100lbs over your bodyweight sucks, and it takes its toll on your body. However, those 100lbs instantly become irrelevant when your adrenaline kicks in. Lets take a look at the LS3 in action.
(Video courtesy of Ekim Rrac YouTube channel)
Again, the LS3 seems to have some cool features. Specifically, I like the different modes it can be set while hauling gear: follow the leader, manual, and GPS guided. The idea of punching in a set of coordinates and sending this guy to link up with a platoon is awesome. Provided it isn’t carry anything too sensitive, or it can be rigged to explode if captured/disabled. Power through the first 3min of the video and you will see some stand-alone terrain tests, this is where the LS3 shinned.
As cool of an idea as the LS3 is, I think Boston Dynamic missed the mark. In another video (below) you can hear just how loud the LS3 is, making it impractical for work where silence is key (every single night raid I went on). It appears the Military agreed with me about the noise (read more here..). Finally, the purpose of the LS3 itself could have been so much better. Imagine the LS3 with a M2 (.50 Cal Machine Gun) weapons system mounted on its back (the still in the above video appears to show a weapon, but its never demonstrated).
(Video courtesy of Boston Dynamics YouTube channel)
Transforming the LS3 to a weapons platform would be awesome. There was no way we were carrying an M2 on our operations, the weight was too ridiculous. The LS3 would allow us to deploy the M2 to areas accessible only by foot. There could be a manual control to the weapon, a remote (like on a Stryker), and a fail-safe where someone back at base/FOB could operate the weapon.
Imagine your squad is pinned in by effective enemy fire, and then over the ridge comes the LS3 spraying .50 into the enemy position without placing additional soldiers at risk. Unmanned robotics (LS3, Drone, etc.) is the future of warfare. There will always be a need for boots on an objective (especially in Special Operations), but when there is a way to reduce risk without compromising overall effectiveness, we should take it.
Perhaps a better application for the LS3 would be humanitarian. The ability to deliver medicine, food, and water to places too dangerous to travel seems a no-brainer. Perhaps an earthquake makes it to dangerous to send people somewhere, send in the LS3. The only catch there is the survivors would need to be in such a state (not too injured) where they could retrieve the supplies from the LS3.
Although I am not sold on the LS3, I am impressed with its abilities. Given more time, and technological advances I think systems like this (with guns) will be the norm. What are your thoughts on the LS3? Let me know in the comment section below.
(Featured image courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps photo, by Sgt. Sarah Dietz/RELEASED)