The U.S. Military rolled out initiatives, inked contracts and collaborated with Boston Dynamics a while back to begin the long road to the creation of the modern robots that Boston Dynamics has in their stable. Originally, they were looking for a robotic pack mule of sorts, able to carry soldiers’ gear for them in a battlefield environment. The original Big Dog design from Boston Dynamics came up to bat after a two-year development cycle on a $32 million contract, but there were some issues. Although it was able to carry loads across rough terrain, follow soldiers autonomously and take verbal and visual commands, it was far too loud and didn’t stand up terribly well to gunfire.
Refinements over time eventually led to Big Dog being redesigned into the Legged Squad Support System, or LS3. Faster, tougher and just as autonomous, it was also quieter. Unfortunately, it was still far from quiet enough. It was generally described as being about as loud as a sitting lawnmower, which would have spelled disaster in real operations. After tests in the Rim of the Pacific military exercise, Warfighting Lab spokesman Kyle Olson spoke out about the bot. “As Marines were using it, there was the challenge of seeing the potential possibility because of the limitations of the robot itself… They took it as it was: a loud robot that’s going to give away their position.”Olson said. The robot would also be difficult to integrate into typical patrol and battle formations, with the added challenge of repairing it if it broke down on the battlefield.
Boston Dynamics followed up by rolling out the smaller Spot unit, which was far quieter due to its use of an electric engine. It was, however, far less autonomous, needing a human operator. Additionally, it could not bear the 400 pound payload that the LS3 was designed for; at most, the little beast could carry 40 pounds. It was described as being a good fit for remote reconnaissance and not much else. At this point, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, decided to put the bots on the back burner. The military said they had learned a lot from this project and, with the right interest from higher up and development of new tech, the project may eventually see the light of day again.