DARPA's Alpha Dog Can Now Follow The Leader

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Boston Dynamics LS3 Alpha Dog Robot
 
Military Robots
Boston Dynamics and DARPA had previously announced that the Alpha Dog LS3 quadruped robot was being upgraded to follow people via voice commands and was installed with much quieter motor systems. Now new video shows how well the system is progressing.
In September Boston Dynamics and DARPA had announced that the Alpha Dog LS3 quadruped robot was being upgraded to follow people via voice commands and was installed with much quieter motor systems.  Now new video shows how well the system is progressing.

LS3 is all about solving the equipment load problem: it's not uncommon for soldiers or Marines in Afghanistan to be carrying 100 pounds or more (45 kg) of gear, often over rough terrain, which is hard work and can lead to injury.

Alpha Dog's primary purpose is to act as a mule, carrying equipment (up to 400 pounds, or 180 kg) for up to 20 miles over 24 hours. Furthermore, it has to do all of this autonomously, without requiring human intervention (if necessary), so that it doesn't just become another hassle that soldiers have to constantly manage.

Now, Alpha Dog, has been trained to play follow the leader, either in the leader's footsteps or with its own chosen path. LS3 is now able to understand and obey about ten different kinds of voice commands that can be combined in different ways, like "follow," "stop," "sit," "stay."

Video from the testing shows the robot negotiating diverse terrain including ditches, streams, wooded slopes and simulated urban environments. The video also shows the map of the Alpha Dog perception system creates to determine the path it takes.
The December testing at Fort Pickett is the first in a series of planned demonstrations that will test the robot’s capabilities across different environments as development continues through the first half of 2014.

DARPA Alpha Dog Robot


A few other new developments on the LS3 are:

  1. LS3 now does night ops, navigating between GPS waypoints autonomously with "zero percent illumination."
  2. In addition to human following and GPS navigation, you can give LS3 a distance and a direction to go in, and it'll obey.
  3. LS3 can detect vegetation, and can plow through five foot high bushes without also plowing headfirst into rocks.
  4. The robot now has a noise level of about 70 decibels, which puts it at the passenger car / vacuum cleaner level.
  5. It can charge mobile devices.

IEEE Spectrum got a chance to ask LTC Joseph K. Hitt, LS3 program manager for DARPA, how the program has changed so far based on experience and user feedback, and here's what he said:

"The objective of the program is to add value [to a squad]. It's not to do the best perception, it's not to do the best mobility, it's to add value. As soon as you look at the program with that as your key performance parameter, things like like voice commands, perhaps head and arm signals... Or perhaps, through experimentation, adding a leash to this thing, may be more important, because that's what the marines and the soldiers are telling us adds value."




SOURCE  DARPA, IEEE Spectrum

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