In a recent statement, the U.S. marines said Google’s ‘robomules’ are too loud for combat zones, so they would not be using the four-legged robots to carry their stuff in real-world combat.
The robotic mules were designed by Boston Dynamics a company which was bought a few years ago by Google, and it is now under the umbrella of the tech giant’s parent company Alphabet. Nevertheless, the money for the robots also known as ‘AlphaDogs’ was provided by the U.S. Defense Department’s DARPA.
According to a recent report, the robots were tested thoroughly during a military exercise in the Pacific in 2014. Since then the project was put on stand-by. The robomules’ main purpose was to help soldiers haul heavy loads during marching across war zones.
One prototype can carry up to 400 pounds, which is a lot more than a human can do: about 72 pounds when not engaged in a fight and 48 pounds when caught in combat. Nevertheless, in some cases troopers can carry even more. For instance, in a 2003 operation in the Middle East soldiers were able to transport up to 101 pounds.
The Defense Department invested in the project approximately $42 million, having high hopes that the robot could make soldiers’ lives easier. But recent tests showed that the robomules are too noisy and should be improved before being deployed in war zones.
When they tested the robots, Marine Corps noted that the machine was way too loud, and it could compromise their operations by giving away their location. Developers explained that the loud noise is caused by the engine, which runs on petroleum.
Some likened the noise with the humming coming from an extremely agitated bee hive. Boston Dynamics engineers also designed Spot, a smaller robot that is a lot quieter since it runs on an electrical engine. But spot can not haul more than 40 pounds which is less than a human can.
The laboratory explained that the tinier robot was designed for ground reconnaissance operations alone. But because it needs a controller to remotely instruct it what to do, it cannot be used by the military just yet.
Furthermore, using robots in combat zones has a huge downside. When the machines break down somebody will have to repair them.
At the moment, both prototypes need improvements and projects were suspended. Boston Dynamics doesn’t plan to upgrade them even further unless the military grants it another contract.
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