Couscous might not be the most obvious harbinger of World War III. But in the corner of a spartan army warehouse on the coast of Maryland, I find myself eyeballing a pallet of 48 boxes of the foodstuff more usually associated with peacenik vegans.
Jason Pusey, a mechanical engineer, thinks these dry particles, when shot through with air, will fluff up enough to approximate the conditions of water without electrocuting him in the process. That will help him in his quest to develop the perfect set of gaits for his military robot.
“I’m trying to develop the fundamental technologies, transitioning between walking to trotting to galloping to maybe bounding or to jumping,” he says. “What if I want to run through water? When a lifeguard runs out into the water, he high-steps.”
The autonomous military vehicles of the future — whether tanks, robots or drones — may have legs rather than tracks or wheels. Besides humans on the beach, Pusey avidly watches nature documentaries to help translate the speed of a cheetah, the energetic burst of a greyhound or the dexterity of a jumping lemur to one single, extraordinarily capable robot. “Our legs are very intelligent things,” he tells me.