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Militaries developing Iron Man-style exoskeleton suits to give troops ‘superhuman strength’ or increase their endurance

Some of the missions the soldiers perform can take weeks, away from in difficult terrain like deserts and mountains which requires maintaining an incredibly high level of physical fitness. Around the world, armies are recognizing the importance of maximizing the effectiveness of Soldiers physically, perceptually, and cognitively.

 

Militaries are trying to augment physical performance, through  Exoskeletons  either through increase in the physical strength of the Soldier or increase their endurance. Today’s exoskeletons allow soldiers to carry 17 times more weight than normal and march with significantly less strain on the body. With an XOS 2 suit, for example, a solider can carry 400 pounds but feel the weight of only 23.5.

 

US army is testing a futuristic exoskeleton that gives soldiers superhuman abilities. The exoskeleton uses artificial intelligence to provide additional power and mobility to soldiers, and allows them to carry heavier loads. US Army is developing  Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS)  that seeks to develop unique tactical exoskeleton systems to augment human strength, increase user capability, and maintain operator mobility while carrying loads in a dynamic, austere environment. Early tests show that the exoskeleton has increased productivity anywhere from two to 27 t

 

The exoskeleton systems are more important in an era when the U.S. Army believes its units may have to operate on future battlefields cut off from regular sources of supply. As a result, soldiers can stand carrying heavy weapons longer including shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and other heavy weapons. Soldiers could also traverse difficult, hilly terrain in places like Afghanistan and Korea with less exertion.

 

Norinco, China’s state-owned manufacturer of armored vehicles and heavy ground munitions, has debuted its second-generation military exoskeleton, a body brace designed to help infantry members carry some 100 pounds of weapons, supplies, and ammunition. Compared to a previous Norinco exoskeleton, which came out in 2015, this second generation has a better battery, more robust hydraulic and pneumatic actuators, and a streamlined harness. The new version is also lighter, which will likely reduce strain felt by the exoskeleton’s wearer, making it a better choice for troops in mountainous terrain.

 

Russian armed forces may soon be fitted with exoskeleton suits every inch of which is bulletproof. The gear consists of heavy body armor and a futuristic helmet that entirely covers the head. Apparently, the helmet’s visor doubles as a screen, which will display tactical information and satellite data to soldiers in real time. The suit weighs almost 100 pounds. To compensate for the limited mobility, Russian scientists added in a powerpack that carries most of its weight and supporting the legs and back. However they require large power and even huge battery packs and wearable solar panels don’t sustain them for more than a few hours. Therefore, the Russian suit won’t be able to carry its own weight for long,  experts say.

 

The U.S. Army  is also developing soft exosuits  using soft robotics. The Department of Veterans Affairs is also seeking research into soft robotics for exoskeletons to aid wounded veteran. Soft robotics differ from traditional counterparts in some important ways: Soft robots have little or no hard internal structures. Instead they use a combination of muscularity and deformation to grasp things and move about. Rather than using motors, cables or gears, soft robots are often animated by pressurized air or liquids.

 

US Army’s Future Soldier

Lockheed Martin  has developed new exoskeleton that lessens leg strain and makes it easier for soldiers to carry heavy loads without becoming exhausted. According to Army Technology, a study by the University of Michigan Human Neuromechanics Laboratory found that people equipped with the Fortis leg exoskeleton carrying a 40-pound load at a 15-degree angle experienced significantly less leg strain.

The knee stress release device (KRSD) was designed to boost leg capacity when lifting or dragging heavy objects, or walking on inclines.  The frame fits round the soldier’s legs, and is attached to a belt worn around the waist. The belt connects to flexible hip sensors, which tell a computer where the soldier is in space, as well as the speed and direction of the movements.  Weighing 27 pounds, the exoskeleton  generates synchronized movements at the motorized knees that physically aid the wearer.  Lockheed Martin claims the system improves work rates by “2 to 27 times”, and that it requires a minimum of training to use.

The U.S. Army is also developing a “third arm” device that can be attached to a soldier’s protective vest to hold a weapon. The purpose of the device is to redirect all of the weight of a weapon to the soldier’s body and lessen the weight on the soldier’s arms, freeing up his or her hands for other tasks. The prototype of the third arm weighs less than four pounds thanks to the use of carbon fiber composites. “We’re looking at a new way for the Soldier to interface with the weapon,” said Zac Wingard, a mechanical engineer for the Army Research Laboratory’s Weapons and Materials Research Directorate.

 

As the Army Research Laboratory explained, some soldiers are weighed down by combat gear heavier than 110 pounds. Those heavy loads may worsen as high energy weapons are developed for future warfare. The third arm could also allow soldiers to use future weapons with more recoil. Additionally, researchers plan to examine the device’s potential applications for various fighting techniques, like shoot-on-the-move, close-quarters combat, or even shooting around corners with augmented reality displays.

 

MAXFAS exoskeleton improves soldiers’ aim

Dan Baechle, a mechanical engineer at the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL), has developing the MAXFAS exoskeleton made of light metal and carbon composites and stabilizes the shooter’s arm by correcting errors and helping to increase proficiency. The engineer has modified the therapeutic robotic exoskeletal arm used at the University of Delaware to train stroke victims to move their arms properly.

 

In tests, subjects wore a laboratory version of the MAXFAS unit that consisted of a cable-driven arm with the motors mounted behind the wearer. The arm is attached to the wearer using carbon composite braces that are equipped with sensors that detect a tremor when taking aim and then signals the motors to adjust the cables and correct it, but does not affect voluntary movements. According to Bachele, when in use, the MAXFAS unit provided feedback that reduced the tremor, which remained reduced after the unit was removed.

 

Mind-Controlled Exoskeletons

Russian scientists and engineers are working on a technology that is straight out of science fiction: bionic exoskeleton suits controlled by the human brain, according to Zvezda television channel. There are several means of operating robotic suits, including via a muscle interface. Teaching them to understand brain commands is a real challenge though.

 

“We believe that a neuro-interface connecting the human brain with an exo-suit is the most efficient means of controlling it. The problem is that we need to teach the computer to understand brain-transmitted commands and this is exactly what we are now working on,” Alexander Kulish, department head at the United Instrument Corporation said in conclusion.

 

Chinese Exoskeletons for difficult environments

Norinco’s first-generation exoskeleton had a top speed of 2.8 miles per hour, for 12 miles. They say this new version improves on that, but doesn’t say by how much. The refinements in weight, ergonomics, and power supply could also boost the second-generation exoskeleton’s co efficiency ratio which is a measure of how less physical effort is  required  compared to actual  load. The reduced weight  also increases battery performance.

 

China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation’s (CSIC) 707th Institute has developed powered exoskeleton customized to be used in  the shipyard, where people are expected to carry huge loads. A robotic exoskeleton which can help disabled people to walk again  has been  commercialized, the Xinhua News Agency reported. The report said that since 2010, the Center for Robotics at University of Electronic Science and Technology of China based in Chengdu has been developing the robotic exoskeleton, which is a wearable robot that can be held on one’s waist and legs to help with walking and movement.

 

The 202 Institute of China Ordnance Industry Group at a June 2015 presentation, showed exoskeleton upgrades, including a larger battery pack on the back, strengthened legs and more powerful, hip mounted hydraulic/pneumatic pumps to power leg movement. The exoskeleton can allow the user to carry over 100 pounds, with enough charge to walk 20 kilometers at a speed of 4.5 km per hour.

 

202nd sees its exoskeletons eventually being used by frontline infantry in difficult environments like mountainous terrain to easily carry a 100 pound pack of supply and ammunition. Other photos showed that the exoskeleton had enough flexibility to allow lateral ground movement including crawling in the mud while under enemy fire.

 

 

Super-Releaser is developing an orthotic exoskeleton called the Neucuff

Super-Releaser is developing an orthotic exoskeleton called the Neucuff that could drastically reduce the cost of orthotics. The Neucuff is an entirely soft robotic elbow orthosis that can fit a wide variety of bodies without any customization. It is aimed at allowing people with cerebral palsy to move their arms with enough strength and fidelity to take control of tasks like self feeding and dressing that might otherwise require live-in care.

 

“Soft robotics offers an avenue to apply force evenly across the body with an exoskeleton that is as gentle as it is strong. Being conformal by nature means a single design can fit a wide range of people just like any athletic brace,” according to Super-Releaser’s website.

 

These orthotics could mean considerable savings for wounded warriors returning from combat after a disabling injury. It could also help make exoskeletons more comfortable to wear, especially when bearing a heavy load.

 

TALOS Requirements :Technology Areas of Interest:

Survivability:

TALOS seeks to design and develop materials, devices, systems, and/or structures to support next-generation ballistic, blast, and whole-body protection. The technology should minimize weight and bulk, while providing protection against advanced rifle rounds. Of particular interest is protection for the face and head. Novel, ergonomic fragmentation protection capabilities are also desired for protection of junction regions of the body.

Also highly desired are:

  • Transparent ballistic materials suitable for use as a helmet visor with minimal optical distortion or low optical index in order to provide full-face protection against advanced rifle rounds without operator discomfort or distraction.
  • Fully-enclosed armored helmet system made of an opaque material that allows the operator to maintain full situational awareness.
  • Technologies that minimize traumatic brain injury and/or injuries from back–face deformation of ballistic protective devices.
  • Technologies capable of providing protection against advanced rifle rounds with additional embedded capabilities such as sensors, transmitters, power transmission, etc.
  • Designs that afford maximum body coverage, including the dynamic/junction regions, and defeat the highest small-arms threat possible while maintaining freedom of movement.
  • Technologies that aid in concealment from observation by the enemy.
  • Technologies to reduce electromagnetic and acoustic signature.
  • Technologies that assist with mounting ballistic material and other subsystems to dynamic structural components.
  • Lightweight, flexible technologies to protect SOF operators from fragmentation and ballistic threats.

 

Possible approaches cover both ends of the spectrum: light-weight (possibly unpowered) exoskeletons and more robust, powered versions. A light-weight exoskeleton, with or without actuation, should support the capability to: Carry its own weight, plus a nominal 75lb distributed payload. Be fast, agile and allow the operator to sit normally. An actuated exoskeleton should support the capability to: Carry its own weight, plus a nominal 150lb+ distributed payload,
Improve operator strength.

Operator Interface, Visual Augmentation System, Situational Awareness, Targeting, Mission Planning and Execution:

ALOS seeks to develop technology that ensures the TALOS operator is fully aware of his environment through enhanced situational awareness presented via multiple senses, including next-generation displays.

Command, Control, Communications, Computing & Intelligence (C4I):

TALOS seeks to develop technology to provide robust, modular, high-bandwidth communications with interoperability and compatibility across the SOF mission set and a computing platform to provide integrated, distributed information processing to serve as the central processing solution for TALOS’ integrated systems. There is a forward-looking focus on providing man-worn networked intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); non-radio frequency communications; beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) communications, computer vision, decision support, and data fusion.

Power and Energy:

TALOS seeks to develop technology related to power generation, power management/ monitoring, and energy storage. These technologies are necessary to provide an uninterrupted source of power to an untethered SOF operator. Power will be used to support the system needs, particularly the exoskeleton.

Human Factors:

TALOS seeks to develop technologies that focus on man-machine pairing. Novel means of bio-mechanical modeling and simulation (including measurement techniques) will be necessary. Human performance optimization shall be achieved by utilizing and integrating novel technology for thermal management, increased human/machine pairing efficiencies, and methods to measure and triage the SOF operator’s physical and cognitive state.

 

 

References and Resources also include:

http://www.gcreport.com/russia-unveils-high-tech-battle-suit-reminiscent-star-wars/

http://idstch.com/home5/international-defence-security-and-technology/military/land-230/super-soldiers-combat-gear-being-tested-feature-exoskeletons-cooling-heating-systems-friend-or-foe-and-medical-sensors/

http://idstch.com/home5/international-defence-security-and-technology/technology/ict/soft-robotics-transforming-military-from-soft-exosuits-to-explosive-ordnance-disposal/

http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/research/a13788533/lockheed-martin-exoskeleton-fortis/

https://www.popsci.com/china-exoskeleton-next-generation#page-2

 

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