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'Big Dog' Could Become A Marine’s Best Friend 


 By Breanne Wagner  

BALTIMORE — Dogs are said to be man’s best friend. Marine Corps officials hope that a new four-legged robot called “Big Dog” will be a Marine’s best friend.

The designers of the robot, which was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, believe that someday it could serve as a Marine’s pack mule. It would tote 200 pounds of gear that would otherwise be carried by Marines, said Maj. David Sadlier, who oversees the project at DARPA.

“The Marine Corps had an interest in it because it lightened the load,” he said in an interview.

Big Dog, which is the size of a large dog or small mule, can walk, run or climb on rough terrain while carrying large loads of equipment, according to manufacturer Boston Dynamics, a robotics and human simulations developer. It has an on-board computer that controls its legs, keeps it balanced to steer and navigate and manages a suite of sensors.

Marine Corps officials also like the robot because it can closely follow a unit and traverse terrain that is inaccessible to unmanned ground vehicles.

“I don’t think it is going to be that far in the future before we’re able to use something like this, send it off to meet the unit, send it away from the unit to go pick something up,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas Murray, commander of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va.

The Marine Corps Combat Development Command originally signed a memorandum of agreement with DARPA in March 2007 to jointly develop the technology. The agreement will come to an end this month with a final assessment at Quantico, said Sadlier. Big Dog will undergo three tests, including a five-mile hike when it will follow a Marine down a road, an obstacle course where it will demonstrate limited autonomous navigation and a final hike through a hilly trail. During the final portion, it will carry a mortar tube on its back, Sadlier said.

After the July test, DARPA will determine the next step.

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