MULE Autonomous Navigation Vehicle By Lockheed Martin

The Lockheed Martin MULE (Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment) autonomous robotic vehicle passed a major milestone this week. The MULE is designed to be an automated pack-animal for troops, following them with heavy loads.

(MULE robotic vehicle [pdf])

The MULE proved itself able to autonomously climb a thirty-inch step and bridge a seventy-inch gap without any operator intervention. The MULE used only parametric descriptions of the obstacles and the vehicle's own self-awareness, and used its specialized articulated suspension and in-hub motors powering each wheel. Multiple tie-down points and removable/foldable side railings will support virtually any payload variation.

"We've now demonstrated mobility that exceeds the HMMWV or any other small combat vehicle," said Joe Zinecker, program manager for the FCS MULE at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. "The MULE can keep up with dismounted Soldiers, and will not be restricted to roads or trails like most other vehicles. We are eager to provide this capability to our Soldiers as early as 2013."

The MULE was neatly anticipated by several science fiction writers. John Varley, writing in his 1976 story In the Bowl, wrote about a vehicle he called a "tagalong:"

Maybe you've never seen one. They're modern science's answer to the backpack. Or maybe to the mule train, though in operation you're sure to be reminded of the safari bearers in old movies, trudging stolidly along behind the White Hunter with bales of supplies on their heads...
(Read more about the tagalong)

Anthony Boucher probably came closest in his classic 1951 story The Quest for Saint Aquin; his device could also engage you in conversation and had a verbal interface:

It looked harmlessly like a woodpile sheltered against possible rain. Thomas pulled off the skins and contemplated the sleek functional lines of the robass. Smiling, he stowed his minimal gear into its panniers and climbed into the foam saddle. The starlight was bright enough so he could check the necessary coordinates on his map and feed the data into the electronic controls...

Thomas had never ridden a robass before...
(Read more about the robass)

NASA is dreaming about having the same thing for astronauts - see Boudreaux - Extra Vehicular Activity Robotic Assistant. And how about a smaller version - the BigDog Quadruped Robot.

Via Space Daily; see also this descriptive pdf - Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment Vehicle/Armed Robotic Vehicle-Assault (Light).

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