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Military's Robotic Pack Mule Gets $32M Boost

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the now-to-develop-a-muffler dept.

The Military 167

coondoggie sends word that Boston Dynamics, maker of the BigDog robot we have been following for a while, has just been awarded a $32M DARPA contract to produce robotic "pack dogs" for the military. "What kind of robot will automatically follow a leader, carry 400 lbs. (182 kg) of military gear, walk 20 miles in all manner of weather, and go 24 hours without refueling? Well, we might soon find out as DARPA has awarded a $32 million contract to build its Legged Squad Support System (LS3) which uses sensors and a GPS to walk along with soldiers across all manner of terrain in any weather without pulling any muscles."

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167 comments

nothing but a bunch of dirty birds (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30989630)

the fags here are dreaming of a robotic fudge packer.

Pfahhhh! (3, Funny)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990326)

A robotic mule? That's ridiculous. Use a real mule. Now a robot donkey, that's different. Could be real hand. Or a bionic burro. An android ass could be the ultimate.

Fuck that... (5, Funny)

Kratisto (1080113) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989664)

Cast Tensor's Floating Disk!

Re:Fuck that... (2, Funny)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989934)

With the way the wars are going one might think "Tenser's Fortunes of War" (abj.6) would be more usefull, but the USmil seems to have a shocking shortage of serious spellcasters at hand.

Re:Fuck that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30990112)

I guess the mods haven't played enough D&D...

Re:Fuck that... (1)

OctaviusIII (969957) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990880)

For the fighter-heavy world of the US Military, I would think that portable holes and flying carpets would be more useful. I'd say bags of holding and haversacks would be useful, too, but in a firefight one wouldn't want a bullet accidentally blowing one of them up.

Money well spent? (5, Insightful)

phy_si_kal (729421) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989670)

Well, the Afghans have mules, that cost nearly 0 and already pass where Humvee's stop. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2009/0504/p22s01-usmi.html [csmonitor.com]

Re:Money well spent? (2, Insightful)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989736)

Mules also happen to have their own logistics costs, are slower, less capable, and can not reach all the same terrains this robot can.

Yes yes, we've all heard the joke, The Soviets used a pencil, NASA spent millions on inventing the space pen. (More of a myth actually, see: http://www.thespacereview.com/article/613/1 [thespacereview.com] )

Re:Money well spent? (4, Insightful)

jlowery (47102) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989818)

Oh, come on. Do you think the complexity of these robots won't lead to breakdowns and glitches? And how cheap is it to replace a robot vs. a mule? It would be cheaper to add bionics to the mule.

Re:Money well spent? (4, Insightful)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989870)

Was reading about mules in the Italian campaign (1943-44). Compared to a legged vehicle, they suck.

There is the food aspect, vets and language. Yes, an Afghani mule for example will need a mule skinner than can speak the mule's native language, Dari or Pashtun (that covers like 90% of Afghanistan's mules).

And if your mules are killed or if you need more, its easier to airlift in some robots than to train or find more mules.

Re:Money well spent? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30989966)

Yet somehow, against the most advanced technology at the time, a bunch of mule-riding tent dwellers have fucked up the British, the Soviet, the American and the NATO armies time and time again.

Re:Money well spent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30990052)

That does have a lot to do with the fact that these armies have more complex goals than just blowing the country into very small pieces.

Re:Money well spent? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30990098)

Protip: the mules had nothing to do with it.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990512)

Of course they did. Bloody hard to paint a mule with radar.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990854)

But not with infrared heat detectors. There's probably things a methane sniffer could pick up too, not to mention the acoustic detectors listening for stubborn mules and stubborn pack drivers arguing with each other.

Re:Money well spent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30990338)

Yet somehow, against the most advanced technology at the time, a bunch of mule-riding tent dwellers have fucked up the British, the Soviet, the American and the NATO armies time and time again.

No, they haven't. Neither the "mule-riding tent-dwellers" part nor the "fucked up the British, the Soviet, the American and the NATO armies" part is true.

Re:Money well spent? (2, Informative)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990940)

They did do in the British back in the 19th century, the Soviets took one to the chin, but their ultimate defeat was because of the broader failing of the Soviet Union and loss of the Cold War.

They have not "fucked up" the Americans and NATO, its just a long process to nation build and fight a war.

Re:Money well spent? (2, Informative)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990908)

Mules are used as pack animals. The USMC and Special Forces use them too.

As for "tent dwellers", have you seen Afghanistan? Someone called it a nation of Alamos, folks there live in cities, towns and compounds with walls think enough to stop artillery.

Re:Money well spent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30991090)

Not really. You're confusing the limited forces which any of those armies have been able/allowed to use with their actual capabilities.

Not like the US Army has no experience with Mules. Or the Marines.

But heck, maybe you like sticking your head up a donkey's ass.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991508)

Yet somehow, against the most advanced technology at the time, a bunch of mule-riding tent dwellers have fucked up the British, the Soviet, the American and the NATO armies time and time again.

All forces listed by you were "fucked up" only in the same sense as e.g. US was "fucked up" in Vietnam - specifically, when one side uses unconventional warfare, and disregarding traditional laws of war (such as, well, not wearing uniform, using human shields, pretending to be a civilian, etc), and the other side is not willing to respond in kind and is averse to anything but light casualties even at extremely high ratios (e.g. 1 American for 50 Taliban fighters), then you get what you get. But go ahead, ask your nearest veteran who served in Afghanistan just how much time would they need to clear the place out if they could use air strikes, artillery, napalm etc indiscriminately, with no regard to civilian casualties, infrastructure damage, public relations, and laws of war.

It wasn't really any different for the USSR there, either. The aversion to losses was lower, which is why it took more casualties to decide to pull out, but it was still too politically inconvenient for the leaders internally (it contributed to an already uneasy destabilized political situation in the country).

If you want an example of how poorly trained ragtag guerilla force does't work very well against a well-trained army that is not limited in means it can use against its enemies, see no further than WW2 Soviet partisans. Very heroic for sure, and they certainly did considerable damage, but Germans were also quite successful at countering them by using simple but brutal measures such as announcing that, for every killed German, 10 local villagers will be shot unless the villagers will identify the partisans they know, and help root out those hiding in the forests (and consequently carrying out those threats).

Re:Money well spent? (1)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991620)

Its not as cut and dry as you make it - for instance the same well-trained Germans using the same tactics you described faired poorly against the Yugoslavian partisans, despite having some local support. Harsh methods and retaliation build more support for the guerrillas, so if you aren't successful in braking them early you end up in a worse position then before. Basically its a trade-off. The other main strategy is to "bribe" the populace while carefully going after the guerrillas i.e. the success of the British in Malay, and what the US is doing now. So both strategies can be made to work and both can fail.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 4 years ago | (#30992014)

It all depends on your objectives. If you want to actually control the territory, then, sure, you need to be careful not to overstep it. If you just want to get rid of "bad guys", and aren't afraid to use scorched earth policy, that works because you don't really care how much the locals hate you - ultimately, there just won't be any remaining. Of course, the territory will then be unusable to you as well.

But we're speaking about Afghanistan here, and who actually needs it? At this point, it's really just humanitarian reasons.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990180)

And if your mules are killed or if you need more, its easier to airlift in some robots than to train or find more mules.
Any particular reason they couldn't just train up mules at home and airlift them in?

Re:Money well spent? (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990850)

If you train a mule and you don't need it, it keeps eating anyway, and you can't let up on the training in case you do eventually need it. Then you have to provision the plane that brings it to the front, and scoop the poop after the long trip.

Once you build a mule-bot, you stick it in a box until you need it. It doesn't need fuel until it arrives in theater, and you don't need to hose down your aircraft after bringing it in.

Re:Money well spent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30992310)

There is the food aspect, vets and language. Yes, an Afghani mule for example will need a mule skinner than can speak the mule's native language, Dari or Pashtun (that covers like 90% of Afghanistan's mules).

A soldier isn't so dumb he can't learn a few dozen commands in a foreign language.

Re:Money well spent? (4, Insightful)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989930)

Yes, but the robot will get much cheaper over time if they are being purchased and R&D costs are paid. I would much rather see robotics technology pushed forward then provide a handout to mule breeders.

Re:Money well spent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30991304)

Mules have other uses than in military to keep their costs down, what other uses of military hardware could bring their costs, I wonder? More wars, perhaps?

Re:Money well spent? (5, Funny)

zippyspringboard (1483595) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990488)

Yeah really, just add some kevlar body armor, a camera, blinders, and a remote controlled stick with a carrot on the end of it!

Re:Money well spent? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30991928)

Do you drive a car to work/school or a mule?

Re:Money well spent? (2, Funny)

gemada (974357) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991984)

yes but the mule-itary industrial complex will always get its way in the end.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#30992114)

The real reason any self-respecting slashdotter should be for these things is eventually this tech will trickle down into the civilan sector where we can actually start having fun with it.

Badass robots... or farm animals. Hmm, really hard choice.... ;)

Re:Money well spent? (1)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990740)

Mules also happen to have their own logistics costs, are slower, less capable, and can not reach all the same terrains this robot can.

May be, but that's at least ten years out. Having a robot that works as intended under ideal spec'd conditions is one thing, but having a robot that won't break down too frequently on the field and actually work as well as a mule under unpredictable conditions. That will be something else.

That being said, you have to start somewhere. It's good that they're funding this. And it's good that they test this out in the field. It's a learning experience if nothing else. It's important that the military keeps on trying new things, even if occasionally those things don't work out too well the first couple of iterations.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

insufflate10mg (1711356) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991650)

Your first couple of sentences echo one of the most tired arguments in the book. "The robot works under ideal spec'd [sic] conditions". What is that supposed to mean? That it only works on rough terrain if it's part of a controlled experiment? that it can only carry 400 lbs in the laboratory? Have you even researched Big Dog? The technology Boston Dynamics has pioneered in the creation of Big Dog is incredible, and it is not to be taken lightly or dismissed so quickly. These machines are created and tested against elemental outliers, or conditions that are fundamentally similar but substantially more extreme. They do this rigorous testing at Level 90 because most of the work it will do in the field is ranked at Level 50. These last few decades have led to absolutely crucial machinery such as Big Dog, and it really shows upon spending more than five minutes doing research.

Re:Money well spent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30990790)

how do mules react under heavy gun fire and artillery versus the robot mule and as for breakdowns and glitches thats what techs are for, besides in dire times when everyone is tired of their MRE's theres always mule for dinner. America will always have the hi tech armed forces in the world.

Re:Money well spent? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30989756)

But mules wouldn't line the pocketbooks of various surpanational military-industrial corporations with huge amounts of cash.

Re:Money well spent? (2, Interesting)

Umuri (897961) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989792)

i'll bite.

Mule: Requires food, water, and has the potential to get scared in combat or make noise when it should be stealthy due to being surprised. Also surprisingly vulnerable to lead bullets.

Robot: requires maintenance, can resist bullets, requires recharging, and does not tire.

Lets be generous: Food, shelter, drugs, etc, to keep the mule healthy would be about equal to maintenance on the robot.
I'm being generous here, any sufficiently mass produced and sufficiently hardened military hardware requires surprisingly little maintenance(compared to some commercial counterparts)

Mule has a lower upfront cost, but lasts less time(old age, injuries, etc). However the robot, while being expensive, would drop in price as more are brought into service.

Likewise, robots cost little to store when not in use, and are quite compact. Mule's require a lot of work.

So yeah, local rented mules are great for our current situation, but in the long run (which is the military's main focus) and in other theaters of combat, the robot is a little more feasible.

Re:Money well spent? (1, Insightful)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989944)

What may be less feasible, given current imperial hubris, but is certainly a better solution would be to not go invading other countries. Then the USA wouldn't need the mechanical mules. Or the troops. Or the trillions of dollars blown on the military. And it could afford small tokens of civilisation like universal healthcare, and a renewable energy infrastructure.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990034)

Yea, too bad we don't have a renewable energy infrastructure like...oh...um...Iceland.

As for the universal health care, we have these things called Congress, Special Interests and Constitutionality that keeps things from being rammed through.

They have nothing to do with military spending. If the US had an efficient universal health care system like the Swiss and Japanese do, we'd have more money for military spending.

Re:Money well spent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30990228)

What may be less feasible, given current imperial hubris, but is certainly a better solution would be to not go invading other countries.

Like the bombing of Serbia and partitioning it into new states?

I seem to remember the leader of the socialist left party in my cultured European country telling the annual meeting that if they didn't back the bombing, she would resign from politics. They narrowly voted for. Ah, good times.

Re:Money well spent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30991960)

Given current imperial hubris, it is essential that we develop imperial walkers. Once the Big Dog is in operational use, the next task is to build larger walkers which should be very useful in rounding up rebels.

Re:Money well spent? (5, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990000)

Can you eat a robot?

Re:Money well spent? (2, Funny)

mlts (1038732) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990048)

The civilian applications of this are tremendous too. SAR (search and rescue) support in areas where even motorcycle transport is dicey (Moab, etc), moving portable gear (generators if the mule can carry them) to a desolate area after a disaster. Additional help for hikers to carry stuff to and from a remote camp. A group of hunters can send a robot back to main camp to pick up another set of kegs, so the main partiers don't have to stumble down a trail at night.

Re:Money well spent? (4, Funny)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991164)

Am I the only one would would like to hop on the thing like a pony and ride it to work every day?

Plus, I could set it to "Terrorize H.R. Mode" and pick it up at the end of the day.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

daver00 (1336845) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991600)

"...requires recharging..."

BigDog runs on a 2-stroke petrol engine, its limbs are actuated by hydraulics which are controlled by computer. All you gotta do is fill up its tank, no time wasting and infrastructure dependent recharge. Yet another way in which the ever denounced ICE is superior to all battery alternatives.

Re:Money well spent? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30989998)

Well, the Afghans have mules, that cost nearly 0 and already pass where Humvee's stop.

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2009/0504/p22s01-usmi.html [csmonitor.com]

If mules cost a $1,000 a piece then what in the hell is the military going to do with 32,000 of them? You've got to think like the military. It makes more sense spending 32 million for one prototype than for 32,000 live mules. There's far less support needed for one robotic mule than 32,000 live ones. Just buy one mule? Then what are they supposed to do with the other $31,999,000.00????? Buying live ones just doesn't make sense.

Re:Money well spent? (3, Insightful)

homunq (30657) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990092)

Mules run on partly celulosic biofuels, which they convert directly into mechanical energy at the point it's needed. They include advanced elastic shock-absorbers which actually return energy for the power stroke. They have autonomous capabilities and vision systems that put any robot to shame.

Robotics is trying to imitate all of these aspects, and is probably making great strides. But if I want to carry something over a mountain pass, give me today's mule over the 8-years-from-now robotic mule any day. Wheels, propellors, jet engines, are a way to beat nature, because evolution isn't very good at those things. But four-legged travel has been optimized by nature (and slightly reoptimized by human breeding to carry burdens). You won't beat it with any foreseeable technology, and you won't make the unforeseeable come any faster with research in this area.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990810)

They have autonomous capabilities and vision systems that put any robot to shame.

A little too damned autonomous, if you've ever met one. I'll stick with the robot. They never spit at me.

Re:Money well spent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30991166)

"A mule once bit my sister..."

Re:Money well spent? (1)

Palpatine_li (1547707) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990964)

Evolution does not optimize interfacing with human, digesting petroleum, and receiving repair with anything larger than yourself.

Re:Money well spent? (5, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991016)

Heinlein had a quote (from I think 'The Green Hills of Earth') that went "Horses can make other horses, that's a trick tractors haven't learned yet". Doesn't exactly work with mules (since horse + donkey = mule), but you get the idea.

Manufacturing costs are a lot lower.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991622)

But if I want to carry something over a mountain pass, give me today's mule over the 8-years-from-now robotic mule any day.... You won't beat it with any foreseeable technology, and you won't make the unforeseeable come any faster with research in this area.

Really? I forsee the day when the soldier doesn't even have to go into harm's way any more, just send the robot.

Beat that with a mule.

Re:Money well spent? (1)

atamido (1020905) | more than 4 years ago | (#30992224)

Wheels, propellers, jet engines, are a way to beat nature, because evolution isn't very good at those things. But four-legged travel has been optimized by nature (and slightly reoptimized by human breeding to carry burdens)

This was my thought. Adding wheels to a flexible "leg" system would be far more energy efficient, stable, and simple than trying to make a full on 4 legged vehicle. I've seen off road vehicles that will go over just about anything using extremely variable hydraulic suspension systems for the wheels. Trying the same things with mechanical legs would have resulted in a painful death for the operators.

Robotic mules? (3, Informative)

Guido del Confuso (80037) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989724)

Well, they should have no problem at all finding the mountain wampus now. I just hope the project doesn't get canceled when they run low on smithore.

Now it just needs to learn how to stop. (0)

PhantomHarlock (189617) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989788)

That chainsaw motor is frapping loud! Thing needs a Honda Genny. Hopefully some of that money will include powerplant research :) in the parts of the video done in a lab with external power, it's very quiet, only the small servo motors.

But yea, there is a comparison to be made here with off the shelf naturally grown mules. Lots of trade-offs there.

Re:Now it just needs to learn how to stop. (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989878)

I believe the grant for powerplant research already went to the robot that eats people [robotictechnologyinc.com] .

(It runs on a quieter, stirling engine.)

I would have expected the Brits to do that first.. (2, Funny)

jameson (54982) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989806)

Anyway, if they get John Leeson to do the voice, I'm buying one.

Re:I would have expected the Brits to do that firs (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990212)

Anyway, if they get John Leeson to do the voice, I'm buying one.

Oh, God, no. If I'm running from some fundamentalist Dalek I'm not going to stop and hold the door for some slow-ass bot to trundle through before continuing my frenzied dash just because the public likes it better than they like me!

This is a weapons platform, not a pack mule. (4, Insightful)

d474 (695126) | more than 4 years ago | (#30989922)

If they wanted mules, they'd use mules. Problem is, it's kind of hard to ask your mule to scout ahead 100m, scan territory, and post an "all clear" message back to your squad, while providing live video feeds and fire support (it may even deploy it's own microUAV during maneuvers). Old No. 7 isn't going to do that for you.

Re:This is a weapons platform, not a pack mule. (3, Insightful)

Dynedain (141758) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990028)

Well, even as a pack mule, it's still useful.

I'm sure that mules aren't very effective when encountering combat situations. Something that follows the leader and doesn't run away when under fire would be very useful.

Re:This is a weapons platform, not a pack mule. (1)

ahabswhale (1189519) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990142)

Apparently you haven't watched video. It's too slow and too loud for any kind of recon. Maybe one day, after many refinements, it will get there but not anytime soon. It does look like a damn fine pack mule though for a small, mobile squad.

Re:This is a weapons platform, not a pack mule. (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990400)

Maybe with $30M they could look in that direction.. but I expect they'll just be doing more "don't fall down" research.

Yep... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30991184)

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/75541-army-to-terminate-robotic-vehicle-aircraft-programs

The magic word is "unarmed"

Can it haul the national debt? (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990002)

So, that's the plan. The robotic mule will be used to haul basketloads of $1 trillion notes.

What do we need the army for? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30990012)

Put dual chainsaws on these! Instant surrender.

no mule, more like a white elephant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30990120)

Unless there are some unforeseen multiple breakthroughs in power plant technology, you are better off with a $3k ATV from outdoor stores.

$32M will net you about 10k units.

In the pipeline, and moving right along. (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990392)

This has been in the pipeline for the last year, and in fact Boston Dynamics had already won the trade study contract for the Legged Squad Support System, the "LS3". This is the next phase, the contract to build prototypes, which will be field tested.

This isn't a research program, as BigDog was. The program is now in DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, which builds prototypes of weapon systems. The next step is volume production and deployment.

So far, DARPA isn't discussing armament. Since the USMC is involved in this program, someone is almost certainly looking at that option. It's attractive as a weapons platform. Since it already has full inertial and GPS sensors, a weaponized version could easily have a stabilized gun, like a tank, so it could fire on the move and hit targets. There's also the possibility of integrating the "automated mortar" developed a few years ago. The "automated mortar" concept is that someone up at the sharp end designates a target, the firing data goes back to the gun, and the gun duly clobbers the selected target. That's what mortar squads do now, but lugging the gear around ties up too many people and slows up the operation. The automated mortar was too heavy to lug around on foot, and mounted on a vehicle, it duplicated existing heavier weapons. The LS3 is just the right size to move that thing around.

So there's the LS3, trailing the squad, when someone spots something that needs to be destroyed. They point something at the target, data goes back to the LS3, and the LS3 quickly launches a mortar round, which arcs over the squad and lands on the target. No more target.

And yes, the annoying buzzing sound will go away. That was just the off the shelf powerplant used in the experimental version. The production version will use a small Diesel engine. (The U.S. military is all-Diesel. Gasoline tankers have no place on the modern battlefield.)

Re:In the pipeline, and moving right along. (-1, Flamebait)

radtea (464814) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991412)

So there's the LS3, trailing the squad, when someone spots something that needs to be destroyed

"Something that needs to be destroyed."

I just want to pause and contemplate that phrase for a while. What exactly is such a thing, that has an fully internalized requirement that it be destroyed? That's what a "need" is, isn't it? If I say, "I need a drink of water" it means that I, personally, for my own purposes, require water.

What exactly are the purposes of these things, such that those purposes lead them to a fully internal requirement, having nothing to do with anyone else's wants or desires, to be destroyed?

Re:In the pipeline, and moving right along. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30991492)

Pork rinds... pork rinds cry out on a metaphysical level their self imposed desire to be destroyed

Re:In the pipeline, and moving right along. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30991610)

Meh, it's been done...

http://pictureisunrelated.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/wtf-pics-donkey-tank.jpg

Robot miltary dogs should be next (1)

bolthole (122186) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990402)

Next stop: Slash.

http://myanimelist.net/character/1317/Slash

(hey, I just wrote a post with "Slash Dot", while being gramatically and contextually appropriate. I should be given UberModPoints or something :-D )

Sounds Low. (1)

gbutler69 (910166) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990498)

$32 million sounds like a pittance to bring something like this to production ready. I'm glad to see something like this getting some of my tax dollars though. Wish more of them went for nuclear/alternative energy though.

And when it fails... (1)

koan (80826) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990522)

it becomes a 400+ pound burden.

Re:And when it fails... (3, Insightful)

Faaln (1004586) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991136)

So are two GIs who collapse from fatigue after marching eight hours through sand carrying over a hundred pounds of kit each.

Re:And when it fails... (3, Insightful)

koan (80826) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991326)

Soldiers recover, and they are trained for the workout, machines break down and that dog is loud as fuck when it's running even with a muffler...no parts to repair = 400+ pounds of junk, stick with the human soldier.

Re:And when it fails... (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 4 years ago | (#30992124)

Soldiers recover, and they are trained for the workout, machines break down and that dog is loud as fuck when it's running even with a muffler...no parts to repair = 400+ pounds of junk, stick with the human soldier.

That's what some old soldiers said about motor vehicles, around 1939 or so.

Some personal experience... (5, Interesting)

IonOtter (629215) | more than 4 years ago | (#30990626)

Mules are quite intelligent.

I've worked with pack horses, and horses can be incredibly stupid when they've got a pack on their back, but mules are very smart. They're sure-footed
and can sense when the path ahead is too dangerous to travel, and if they don't wanna go, they just won't go.

Mules are intelligent, which means the operator has to build a strong relationship with them, built upon mutual respect and trust. Not that I don't think our soldiers are capable of doing such a thing, but it's something you don't want them doing. Seeing your favorite mules getting blown to bits will be just as traumatic and harmful as seeing your buddies getting killed, maybe even worse, since people often build closer bonds with animals than they do with other humans.

Also, one last thing is that when a mule is feeling cranky and wants to ruin your day, they won't just lash out like a stupid horse. Doc Waters warned us in class that they will target your belt-buckle and wait placidly until you're in range. No laid-back ears, no swishing tail, no sign of anger or aggression. You'll walk up and *KER-POW!*

Re:Some personal experience... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30991170)

Horses are obedient.

Mules are mulish and stubborn.

We prefer perfect obedience and vaguely dumb vs. "I know what I'm doing" and intelligence.

military vs helping people with disabilities (2)

ecorona (953223) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991220)

Something this technology can eventually do is help people with disabilities eventually get around without having to use a wheelchair. It would give people with disabilities the freedom to use robotic legs to be more self-reliant. I'm talking climbing stairs, getting in and out of cars without $25,000 modifications, and traversing airports independently. If you think going through TSA is bad now, imagine what they do to you if you need to go through with a metal chair. The problem that many people don't realize is that people with disabilities don't earn enough money to create a market for these things because of widespread discrimination in the job market for people with disabilities. This is one case where capitalism severely fails. We have the technology to very significantly improve the lives of many people with disabilities. In particular, there is a car that people without appropriate upper body strength can drive, but the damned thing costs $127,000. Combine that price tag with widespread job discrimination in even extremely qualified people with disabilities, and we are simply just teasing an already disadvantaged minority of people.

I for one... (3, Insightful)

MikeURL (890801) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991344)

I won't ever forget the first time I saw the video of this thing walking. Up until that point I had assumed that robotics would plod along and maybe, just maybe, at some point in my lifetime they would develop something that could truly walk (not shuffle) in a straight line on level ground. Then, in one fell swoop, there was a robot that can not only walk but it can probably handle icy terrain better than I can.

I guess that was when I started to appreciate, really, the concept of singularity. The point where things develop much much faster than you can comprehend. I imagine it will be a lot like that. One minute you think you have things roughly figured out and the next minute your robotic overlords are herding you into ships headed for the oort cloud.

Limited use (1, Interesting)

Johnny Mnemonic (176043) | more than 4 years ago | (#30991968)


This has to be refueled every day?

It goes 20 miles in 24 hours--or ~1mph? You could outrun it--and the squad that it's supporting, as they'll be tied to it or it'll get lost.

Longer journeys might make it useful, but so much of it's own carrying capacity would be taken up by it's own fuel demands that it still wouldn't be able to go very far. Plus, it'll be big target--take one of these out, and the squad has to leave behind 400 pounds of gear, if it isn't destroyed already. If it can barely walk, it's not going to be able to take much damage before it's motor control is confused, let alone act correctly to avoid direct fire.

I suppose the best use would be for non-hostile but rugged terrain that's 10 miles from a FOB--so it can take supplies out 10 miles and then 10 miles back to refuel. But isn't that what helicopters are for?

I honestly don't see the use for this with those limitations. If the fuel is preplaced, or if the speed is increased, I suppose. But I don't think either is likely to happen.

Comes with free enemy alert system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30992044)

As an added bonus to walking and carrying a load, it makes an extremely loud alarm sound to alert your enemies of your arrival. No more awkward silences when your scout team stumbles into an unprepared enemy ambush -- just send "alert-o-bot" ahead on point so they know you are coming. Don't forget your bright orange hunting vests and flashing reflective headgear and the new "bang flag" bullet system.

Finally found a 1...4 profit model (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30992304)

1) Go to livestock auction, get donkey -> $100

2) Hire Mr. "Dude, that's pretty cool, but WAY too skin tight" Tron costume guy -> $100 consultation fee

3)Mod donkey to look like robot, plenty of blinkenlights, whirring noises, antennae, Lost in Space" robot voice, etc. Heck, bolt old shotgun on top for "effect". -> $100 thriftstore, dollar store, scrounge in junk gadget drawer, and pawn shop mod materials costs

Total costs= $300

TA DA!

4)Sell to DARPA for..ONE MILLION DOLLAHZ!

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