Boston Robotics Alpha Dog Starts Outdoor Training

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Boston Dynamics Alpha Dog LS3 prototype began outdoor testing.  We got our first look at the new bigger, badder, and bigger and badder BigDog back in September, and DARPA's already gotten on the horse and saddled up the bot with a bunch of luggage and chased it out into the wilderness to see how it'll do.

Recently the LS3 prototype underwent its first outdoor exercise, demonstrating the ability to follow a person using its “eyes”—sensors that allow the robot to distinguish between trees, rocks, terrain obstacles and people. Over the course of the next 18 months, DARPA plans to complete development of and refine key capabilities to ensure LS3 is able to support dismounted squads of warfighters.

Features to be tested and validated include the ability to carry 400lbs on a 20-mile trek in 24-hours without being refueled, and refinement of LS3’s vision sensors to track a specific individual or object, observe obstacles in its path and to autonomously make course corrections as needed. Also planned is the addition of “hearing” technology, enabling squad members to speak commands to LS3 such as “stop,” “sit” or “come here.” The robot also serves as a mobile auxiliary power source— troops may recharge batteries for radios and handheld devices while on patrol.

In the footage we saw in September, we didn't get a good sense of how much quieter AlphaDog was going to be (because at Boston Dynamics labs the robot was powered by off-board hydraulics). The vid above shows that while it's certainly not what you'd call stealthy, it's at least slightly quieter than the original BigDog, with a tone that sounds more mechanical and less giant angry bees.

DARPA seeks to demonstrate that an LS3 can carry a considerable load from dismounted squad members, follow them through rugged terrain and interact with them in a natural way, similar to the way a trained animal and its handler interact.

“If successful, this could provide real value to a squad while addressing the military’s concern for unburdening troops,” said Army Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, DARPA program manager. “LS3 seeks to have the responsiveness of a trained animal and the carrying capacity of a mule.”

The 18-month platform-refinement test cycle, with Marine and Army involvement, kicks off this summer.  The tests culminate in a planned capstone exercise where LS3 will embed with Marines conducting field exercises.

LS3 is based on mobility technology advanced by DARPA’s Big Dog technology demonstrator, as well other DARPA robotics programs which developed the perception technology for LS3’s “eyes” and planned “ears.”

IEEE Spectrum