Chinese engineers are developing a large, four-legged robotic “yak,” that is supposed to be capable of hauling as much cargo as two real yaks. It has the same concept as the robo-dog that Waltham, Massachusetts-based Boston Dynamics has popularized over the last decade.
The robot has four spindly legs and a barrel-shaped body. It is topped off with a cargo-carrying metal rack. Global Times, a Chinese tabloid with links to the Chinese government, claims it can carry up to 160 kilograms (352 pounds) and travel at up to 6.21 miles per hour. The Chinese Communist Party claims that it is “the world’s largest, heaviest and most off-road-capable of its kind.”
It is further stated that the robot “displayed a very strong adaptative (sic) ability to various types of terrains including steps, trenches, and cliffs, not to mention muddy roads, grasslands, deserts, and snowfields.”
The video that is released shows that the robot has problems when encountering uneven terrain or hindrances. It also attempts to obscure the robo-yak’s military background. A banner strewn across the front of the robot is blurred out in the video, a strange thing to hide. Part of it is visible at another point in the video, however, and shows a wheeled vehicle with a tank-like turret. This suggests that the Chinese military might have more in mind for this robot than merely hauling supplies.
The robo-yak is claimed to be 10 years behind the Pentagon’s pet projects. In 2012, the Marine Corps and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) tested the Legged Squad Support System (LS3). The LS3, developed by Boston Dynamics, weighed 800 pounds, could carry 400 pounds of cargo and had a range of 20 miles, and could be controlled with voice commands.
However, the use of robots on battlefields is still an issue because their batteries run out. If battery technology can triple the range of legged robots, we could see them on the battlefield shortly thereafter.