Militaries have long struggled to strike a balance between how much gear a soldier has to carry into battle. Too much, and he can’t move. Too little, and he might run out of ammo and food, or lack the armor he needs to survive. “Since the 18th century total loads have progressively increased far beyond those carried in previous times,”a 1989 U.S. Army study noted.
Medics and mortarmen have been carrying the heaviest loads into combat in recent years: 133 pounds per man for a three-day mission. Last year, the Seattle Times reported that the number of soldiers medically retired from the Army with at least one musculoskeletal condition — primarily due to the heavy loads they carry — increased nearly 10-fold between 2003 and 2009.
So the Army is exploring a way to help the soldier on foot — “dismounted,” in Army parlance — carry all that weight: build each squad its own personal robot to tag along, carrying a lot of that pesky heavy stuff.
“The Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport (S-MET)…will significantly reduce the mission equipment load of the an Infantry Soldier,” an Army briefing slide says, somewhat ungrammatically. “The S-MET should be capable of carrying the equipment currently required by a nine-man squad for a 96 -hour operation.”
Of course, one look at this thing suggests it won’t be the nimblest of ways up a rugged hill or through a narrow chink in a a wall of rocks.
But not to worry, the Army says. This thing not only has brawn, it has brains:
The S-MET should be capable of operating in three control regimes; tele-operation, semi-autonomous and autonomous. Semi-autonomous navigation will include wireless leader/ follower and waypoint navigation. The speed of the S-MET will allow for the squad to maintain its momentum during all operations.
The S-MET should have the capability to recharge the squad’s radio and other batteries to support required operations.