Too loud for military use? Boston Dynamics founder defends his four-legged robot

Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert strongly defended the large four-legged robots that his company built after a report last week suggested that the military, which funded the robots’ development, would “shelve” the finished products going forward.

In an e-mail, Raibert contended that the LS3 project was a research project that had hit many milestones in its goal of building machines that would tramp through rough terrain carrying large loads. “These robots demonstrate off-road mobility unrivaled by conventional wheeled and tracked vehicles, and begin to approach the mobility of animals,” he wrote. “Framing the program as ‘shelved’ is not how we think about it.”

He said the company has developed a succession of four-legged robots that improved with each iteration, starting with Big Dog — large, noisy, and tottering — then LS3 the loadbearer, and finally Spot, a stealthy creature that can canter through office spaces.

Boston Dynamics was bought by Google in December 2013 after spending almost two decades building various extreme-skill robot largely for military use.

Marines who worked with the LS3, the second generation of a load-carrying four-legged robot, described it as “a loud robot that’s going to give away their position,” Kyle Olson, a spokesman for the Warfighting Lab at the US Marine Corps told Military.com, which also stated that government funding allocated to the projects was running out.

But Raibert said that each model has been quieter than the model that came before.

“With regard to noise, LS3 is about 20 times quieter than BigDog, its predecessor, and Spot is 10 to 20 times quieter than LS3, depending on the mode of operation,” Boston Dynamics founder Raibert wrote.

“They are not as quiet as people and animals, but LS3 is about as quiet as a typical motor vehicle, such as a car or Humvee, and Spot is quieter.”

Like other robotics startups with high launch costs, Boston Dynamics has received funding for many years from the Department of Defense and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Government investment in Boston Dynamics peaked in 2012 and 2013, during which years the company received $34 million and $31 million in contracts form the US Army, US Navy, and DARPA.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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