recommended reading

Real vs. Robotic Mules

ARCHIVES

By Dawn Lim March 9, 2010

recent posts

On Afghanistan's mountainous terrain, there are places where Humvees, the military's four-wheeled and diesel-powered beasts, can't go. But mules can. Armed with a knack for survival and "entirely nonpartisan about the contents of its load," writes Susan Orlean in a New Yorker article, the mule has proved a valued trooper in the military.

When the war in Afghanistan started in 2001, U.S. troops led mules bearing military supplies up mountains and high altitudes. The combat load for the average soldier increased by 45 pounds in combat load from 1990 to 2003, making mules extra important on missions. The Defense Department established animal packing as a formal course offering just under two years ago.

The military likes mules so much that it's pushing for robotic ones. "Walking quadruped platforms," funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, are less likely to kick and bite. Under the Legged Squad Support System or LS3 program, a joint effort between DARPA and the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, machines with "control techniques that allow walking, trotting, and running/bounding and capabilities to jump obstacles, cross ditches, recover from disturbances" are in the pipeline.

In January, DARPA awarded a $32 million development contract to Boston Dynamics, the company that created BigDog, the 240-pound robot that autonomously interacts with the environment to transport heavy loads through different types of terrain.

A Fort Benning TV clip says that these walking machines might become "a solder's new best friend." Lt. Col. Matthew England, a branch chief for combat development was quoted saying, "When you talk about the behaviors they've come up with to make this machine work the way it works, that in my mind is revolutionary."

But will something be lost if robotic mules -- which emit a drone that sounds like an electric shaver -- replace real mules. Orlean interviewed Tony Parkhurst, the packmaster at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center who trains marines to deal with (real) mules. He suggested that mules are an assuring presence in stressful combat situations.

Parkhurst said that his favorite part of the job is watching the troops get used to animals. "They transform from, 'Oh, God, he's gonna stomp on me' to hugging on them and loving them and wanting to take them home.' After a moment, he added, "Anyway, when people are shooting at you, anything you can attach to emotionally means something."

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.