More on our favorite quadruped robot, the LS3
DARPA's original plan was for BigDog, a robot built by Boston Dynamics in 2005, to become a pack mule for soldiers. It was an ambitious program, a robot that can go wherever soldiers go, and it has succeeded fantastically.
When BigDog was built it was loud and fairly awkward. the robot was outfitted with a laser gyroscope, a stereo vision system, and had legs with hydraulic cylinder actuators to power the joints. The robot was bristling with sensors, it had approximately 50 that gathered information from joint position and ground contact to velocity and altitude, and the entire robot was controlled by an onboard computer.
After BigDog's initial release, a small, research-based robot called LittleDog was introduced. LittleDog was meant for folks who study robotics to push the boundary of software that would enable larger robots, such as BigDog, to traverse terrain. LittleDog is still used in research, and has been taught to climb incredibly difficult terrain for its scale.
BigDog became AlphaDog in 2008, when it was revealed that the robot could now recover from getting kicked, walk on ice (in hilarious fashion), and navigate woodland terrain. The AlphaDog robot was capable of carrying 340 pounds of gear, could traverse difficult terrain, run at 4 miles per hour, and climb 35 degree inclines.
AlphaDog has since become the LS3, with increased carrying capacity, the ability to plan routes through terrain while following its leader, voice commands, and the ability to recover from falls. This new robot is finally going through testing that could enable its deployment. It's been a fun ride, watching the advances in both hardware and software for the robot.
The LS3 uses a pair of stereo cameras along with a LIDAR (light detecting and ranging) component for its visual sensing capabilities, and has been given audio sensing capabilities as well. The robot is now roughly ten times quieter than the original Big Dog, and can walk between 1-3 mph in rough terrain, jog 5 mph, and run at 7 mph.
The software advancements are impressive as well. The robot can understand 10 voice commands, "Follow tight," which has the LS3 follow the exact path (as best it can) of the human leading it, "follow corridor," which lets the robot make its own decisions while following its leader, "go to coordinate," which has the robot navigate to certain coordinates, and more mundane commands such as "power on," and "sit," just like a normal dog.
The 18-month plan is for completing the testing and development of the system has already begun, and if all goes well we could see the LS3 supporting soldiers as early as 2014. These tests will require the LS3 to walk 20 miles in 24 hours while carrying 400 pounds without any human intervention, a herculean task for a lone robot.
I know I'm rooting for its success. I've been watching this dog for almost 8 years now, and I'm excited for the thing. Just look at it take a tumble and then stomp around the mud in the video below and I'm sure you'll be cheering for it too.