Robodogs: No Longer a Marine’s Best Friend
Robotic dogs in the military have come and gone within a span of a few years, without ever facing a battlefield1. In 2005, Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) funded the research of Dr. Martin Bueler for the first prototype of BigDog. Boston Dynamics overtook the robotics project by creating multiple generations of BigDog that featured the ability to carry 400 pounds of gear, assist soldiers with a mechanic arm, and hike over rough terrain and ice that was too inaccessible for conventional all-terrain vehicles.
Also known as the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), BigDog would have provided much needed tactical support to soldiers who are required to carry no more than 72 pounds during a march and 48 pounds during fighting2. Yet, Sgt. Sarah Dietz states that paratroopers during the Iraq War were carrying up to 101 pounds. Marine Corp exercises during the “Rim of the Pacific” project and 42 million dollars later, tests failed3. BigDog was ousted because the small mule sized animal was considered too loud for combat and would give away the Americans’ approach4.
By attempting to modify BigDog, a much smaller and quieter robodog was created, called Spot. The purpose of Spot was to enter a building first when squads were doing tactical raids, but was only able to carry 40 pounds of gear. Additionally, Spot had to be remotely controlled by a squad member, rather than BigDog’s more automated response to group movements5.
Both prototypes would be difficult for Marines to fix in the field if one were to break down during combat. Despite the uselessness of the military’s robodogs, robots geared to aid fighters continue to be researched6. Far-fetched ideas, such as a robot that can scoop up wounded soldiers on the battlefield, are projects that in the works for the future battlefield.
Near term projections point to drones as one of the most efficient and helpful technologies that can be adjusted to aid fighters during combat. DARPA, creators of the robodogs, have a drone in the works that can exit and land vertically and could carry up to 3000 pounds of gear to isolated positions by the touch of a smart phone78. Future combat aid to soldiers have many possibilities through robots, but the idea of robodogs are shelved for the moment.