KAHUKU TRAINING AREA, Hawaii --
The Legged Squad Support System concept has taken five years to develop by Boston Dynamics and $2 million to create. It is now being thrown into the heart of Kahuku Training Area, completely controlled and field tested by five young Marines from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
The LS3 is a robotic mule, capable of traversing rugged terrain with Marines while carrying much of their load. It is programmed to follow an operator and detect large terrain objects to maneuver around.
The testing for the LS3 is being observed by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab during the Advanced Warfighting Experiment as part of Exercise Rim of the Pacific 2014, a military multilateral training event featuring 22 nations and roughly 25,000 people.
Lance Cpl. Brandon Dieckmann, a Las Vegas native, remembers watching clips of the LS3 on YouTube before he joined the infantry. He said he never would have guessed he would be chosen to operate the machine, which has been affectionately nicknamed “Cujo” by his company.
“The reality (that it’s) a walking robot with quadrupedal robotic legs (stood out to me),” Dieckmann said. “They randomly chose us to operate it, probably because I wear glasses.”
The Marines used “Cujo” to conduct resupply missions to the various platoons around the training area. The LS3 brought water to service members in terrain difficult to reach by all-terrain vehicles.
“I was surprised how well it works,” Dieckmann said. “I thought it was going to be stumbling around and lose its footing, but it’s actually proven to be pretty reliable and rugged. It has a bit of a problem negotiating obliques and contours of hills.”
The LS3 is being used as a logistical tool during RIMPAC as opposed to a tactical tool, due to its loud noise during movement and problems traversing certain terrains.
“I’d say 70 to 80 percent of the terrain we go through, it can go through,” Dieckmann said. “There are times when it is going to fall over, but most of the time it can self-right and get back up on its own. Even if it doesn’t, it takes one person to roll it back over. The way it is designed is that you can easily roll it back over.”
However, the robotic mule is still in development. Dieckmann said creating more space within the LS3 for equipment, like heavy weapons systems, would be beneficial for quicker movement in a field or combat environment.
Some of the Marines have grown attached to Cujo. In particular, Pfc. Huberth Duarte, an infantryman with India Co., 3/3, and an operator for the LS3, says the robotic mule has become like a dog to him. He also mentioned the controls are simple to learn and have joy sticks. He said it “feels like playing Call of Duty.”
Putting the LS3 in the hands of young Marines is vital to the development of the program, said Ben Spies, a contractor with Boston Dynamics observing the AWE.
“We give the military hands-on so we can see what they will use it for instead of putting it in a parking lot,” Spies said. “This is the first time we put the LS3 in a training environment like this. They push it to the max. It helps us develop it more, because right now, only the engineers have it.”
Dieckmann also said he looks forward to seeing future developments of the program.
“It would pretty crazy to see a later version of it 15 to 20 years down the line and be able to say I was one of the first groups that tested it and brought it to the field on one of the bigger training exercises,” Dieckmann said. “It’s pretty surreal.”