A robotic suit that gives the wearer superhuman powers sounds like the stuff of science fiction. But technology like that is making the leap from fantasy to reality. A powered exoskeleton (also known as power armor, powered armor, powered suit, exoframe, hardsuit, or exosuit) is a wearable mobile machine that is powered by a system of electric motors, pneumatics, levers, hydraulics, or a combination of technologies that allow for limb movement with increased strength and endurance. The exoskeleton supports the shoulder, waist and thigh, and assists movement for lifting and holding heavy items, while lowering back stress. Its design aims to provide back support, sense the user’s motion, and send a signal to motors which manage the gears.
A powered exoskeleton differs from a passive exoskeleton in the fact that a passive exoskeleton is not powered by a system of electric motors, pneumatics, levers, hydraulics, or a combination of technologies. However, similar to a powered exoskeleton, it does give mechanical benefits to the user. Passive exoskeleton technology is increasingly being used in the automotive industry, with the goal of reducing worker injury (especially in the shoulders and spine) and reducing errors due to fatigue. They are also being examined for use in logistics. These systems can be divided into two categories: exoskeletons for upper-limb for assisting shoulder flexion-extension movements; and exoskeletons for lumbar support for assisting manual lifting tasks.
In the 1960s, the first true ‘mobile machines’ integrated with human movements began to appear. A suit called Hardiman was co-developed by General Electric and the US Armed Forces. The suit was powered by hydraulics and electricity and amplified the wearer’s strength by a factor of 25, so that lifting 110 kilograms (240 lb) would feel like lifting 4.5 kilograms (10 lb). A feature called force feedback enabled the wearer to feel the forces and objects being manipulated.
In 1986, an exoskeleton called the Lifesuit was designed by Monty Reed, a US Army Ranger who had broken his back in a parachute accident. In 2001, Reed began working full-time on the project, and in 2005 he wore the 12th prototype in the Saint Patrick’s Day Dash foot race in Seattle, Washington. Reed claims to have set the speed record for walking in robot suits by completing the 4.8-kilometre (3 mi) race at an average speed of 4 kilometres per hour (2.5 mph). The Lifesuit prototype 14 can walk 1.6 km (1 mi) on a full charge and lift 92 kg (203 lb) for the wearer.
In the last years, the number of companies with the aim to create exoskeletons that can help the paralyzed has multiplied. Countless examples can be mentioned here. In 2018, Japanese robotics company Cyberdyne has received approval from the FDA to make its lower-body exoskeleton, known as Hybrid Assisted Limb or HAL, available to U.S. patients. Other companies are working on exoskeleton-style devices, too, including Ekso Bionics of Berkeley, Calif., Argo Medical Technologies Ltd. in Israel, and Rex Bionics in New Zealand. The Ekso device and Argo’s exoskeleton called ReWalk are only available in rehabilitation centers and hospitals in the U.S. for now.
Italian engineers at the Perceptual Robotics Laboratory developed what they called a Body Extender, a robot that can help move heavy objects as an exoskeleton by lifting about 50 kilograms in each of its hands. However, teams at Swiss companies Hocoma and Reha Technology are also working on robotic structures helping those in need, and a lot more startups are joining them all around Europe. For example, a French startup, Wandercraft, developed an exoskeleton to allow users to walk hands-free, or Spanish Marsi Bionics has been working on a wearable gait structure specifically designed for children with neuromuscular diseases.
So, these metallic structures will be used for assembling complicated products, such as aircraft, lifting heavy machinery, packages or even humans around in various industries. For example, even the state-owned French railway company is developing a versatile exoskeleton, which will aid workers from the risk of physical ailments. The exoskeletons, an articulated brace developed in an “innovation partnership” with the specialist company Ergosanté Technologie, has been designed to assist in the maintenance of the trains, and offers support in maintaining three positions by mechanical means: the cervical when the worker looks upwards, the posture of the arms in the air and the bending of the trunk forward.
There are a new breed of construction worker in Canada, using wearable machinery to do work faster and with less fatigue. An exoskeleton’s frame eases the strain of heavy lifting or repetitive tasks. It protects a person’s joints and muscles from injury. Many in the industry say the days of workers damaging their bodies to make a buck could soon be over as exoskeletons become more common on construction sites. Some of the suits work like a lever, using counterweights to lift objects. The latest version is a fully powered motorized suit that can enhance a user’s strength and stamina. The hope is this technology will attract younger workers and allow older employees to stay on the job longer, which would benefit an industry facing a labour shortage.
Mobility aids are frequently abandoned for lack of usability. Major measures of usability include whether the device reduces the energy consumed during motion, and whether it is safe to use.
Impressively, Ferris and Herr put forth these visions prior to the field achieving the sought-after goal of developing an exoskeleton that breaks the ‘metabolic cost barrier’. That is, a wearable assistive device that alters user limb-joint dynamics, often with the intention of reducing user metabolic cost during natural level-ground walking and running compared to not using a device. When the goal is to reduce effort, metabolic cost is the gold-standard for assessing lower-limb exoskeleton performance since it is an easily attainable, objective measure of effort, and relates closely to overall performance within a given gait mode.
For example, reducing ‘exoskeleton’ mass improves user running economy, and in turn running performance. Further, enhanced walking performance is often related to improved walking economy and quality of life. To augment human walking and running performance, researchers seriously began attempting to break the metabolic cost barrier using exoskeletons in the first decade of this century, shortly after the launch of DARPA’s Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation program.
It was not until 2013 that an exoskeleton broke the metabolic cost barrier. In that year, Malcolm and colleagues were the first to break the barrier when they developed a tethered active ankle exoskeleton that reduced their participants’ metabolic cost during walking (improved walking economy) by 6% . In the following 2 years, both autonomous active and passive ankle exoskeletons emerged that also improved human walking economy . Shortly after those milestones, Lee and colleagues broke running’s metabolic cost barrier using a tethered active hip exoskeleton that improved participants’ running economy by 5%. Since then, researchers have also developed autonomous active and passive exoskeletons that improve human running economy
Continued progress to convert laboratory-constrained exoskeletons to autonomous systems hints at the possibility that exoskeletons may soon expand their reach beyond college campuses and clinics, and improve walking and running economy across more real-world venues. Now, that’s just the beginning of the glorious conquest of the exoskeleton market. Researchers estimate that the global market is already worth more than $125.6m and generates well over $100m in revenue each year, but its size is expected to hit nearly $1.9bn by 2025.
Technical Challenges and emerging technologies
The first technical challenge is related to sensing how can the suit know when and how to move. Without rapid sensing, the lag between the operator desiring to move and the actual movement results in the operator feeling like they are moving through a pool of Jell-O. A second challenge is associated with actuation. Although actuating a knee is straightforward, more complex joints, such as hips and ankles, require very advanced, multi-dimensional actuators. Even the most advanced actuators would still limit the full range of motion for these joints, resulting in a decrease in agility.
Power and Propulsion
One of the biggest problems facing engineers and designers of powered exoskeletons is the power supply. An exoskeleton requires power on par with a small motorcycle. This is a particular issue if the exoskeleton is intended to be worn “in the field”, i.e. outside a context in which the exoskeleton can be tethered to a power source. Batteries require frequent replacement or recharging and may risk explosion due to thermal runaway. Laboratory-based exoskeletons are moving into the real world through the use of small, transportable energy supplies and/or by harvesting mechanical energy to power the device.
Though a number of power alternatives are available, engines would be too noisy, fuel cells would be too hot, and batteries would be too heavy. Additionally, most power sources are very flammable or explosive, resulting in safety issues. Internal combustion engine power supplies offer high energy output, but problems include exhaust fumes, heat, and inability to modulate power smoothly. Hydrogen cells have been used in some prototypes but also suffer from several problems.
Despite these improvements, another way to circumnavigate the burden of lugging around bulky energy sources is by developing passive exoskeletons. Passive exoskeletons have been able to assist the user by storing and subsequently returning mechanical energy to the user without injecting net positive mechanical work. However, due to their simplified designs, passive exoskeletons are in some ways less adaptable than powered devices.
Thus, while passive systems may be adequate for providing assistance during stereotyped locomotion tasks such as running on a track or hiking downhill at a fixed speed, they may not be able to handle variable conditions. On the other hand, active devices offer the opportunity to apply any generic torque-time profile but require bulky motors and/or gears that need a significant source of power to do so.
Early exoskeletons used inexpensive and easy-to-mold materials, such as steel and aluminium. However, steel is heavy and the powered exoskeleton must work harder to overcome its own weight, reducing efficiency. Aluminium alloys are lightweight, but fail through fatigue quickly. Fiberglass, carbon fiber and carbon nanotubes have considerably higher strength per weight. “Soft” exoskeletons that attach motors and control devices to flexible clothing are also under development.
Joint actuators also face the challenge of being lightweight, yet powerful. Technologies used include pneumatic activators, hydraulic cylinders, and electronic servomotors. Elastic actuators are being investigated to simulate control of stiffness in human limbs and provide touch perception. The air muscle, a.k.a. braided pneumatic actuator or McKibben air muscle, is also used to enhance tactile feedback.
Furthermore, the high-performance motors on recent tethered exoskeleton testbeds have relatively high torque control bandwidth that can be leveraged to render the dynamics of existing or novel design concepts
The flexibility of human anatomy is a design issue for traditional “hard” robots. Several human joints such as the hips and shoulders are ball and socket joints, with the center of rotation inside the body. Since no two individuals are exactly alike, fully mimicking the degrees of freedom of a joint is not possible. Instead, the exoskeleton joint is commonly modeled as a series of hinges with one degree of freedom for each of the dominant rotations.
Spinal flexibility is another challenge since the spine is effectively a stack of limited-motion ball joints. There is no simple combination of external single-axis hinges that can easily match the full range of motion of the human spine. Because accurate alignment is challenging, devices often include the ability to compensate for misalignment with additional degrees of freedom
Power control and modulation
A successful exoskeleton should assist its user, for example by reducing the energy required to perform a task. Individual variations in the nature, range and force of movements make it difficult for a standardized device to provide the appropriate amount of assistance at the right time. Algorithms to tune control parameters to automatically optimize the energy cost of walking are under development. Direct feedback between the human nervous system and motorized prosthetics (“neuro-embodied design”) has also been implemented in a few high-profile cases
Adaptation to user size variations
Humans exhibit a wide range of physical size differences in both skeletal bone lengths and limb and torso girth, so exoskeletons must either be adaptable or fitted to individual users. Any misalignment between the actuators and joints could render the suit useless, and potentially dangerous. The resources associated with making and sustaining a large number of custom suits would be astronomical, while also creating a logistical nightmare.
In military applications, it may be possible to address this by requiring the user to be of an approved physical size in order to be issued an exoskeleton. Physical body size restrictions already occur in the military for jobs such as aircraft pilots, due to the problems of fitting seats and controls to very large and very small people. For soft exoskeletons, this is less of a problem.
Health and safety
While exoskeletons can reduce the stress of manual labor, they may also pose dangers. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called for research to address the potential dangers and benefits of the technology, noting potential new risk factors for workers such as lack of mobility to avoid a falling object, and potential falls due to a shift in center of gravity.
Providing comfort at the human-exoskeleton interface
Regardless of active or passive exoskeleton design, researchers struggle to effectively and comfortably interface exoskeletons to the human body. That is primarily due to the human body having multiple degrees of freedom, deforming tissues, and sensitive points of pressure. Accordingly, many researchers utilize custom orthotic fabrication techniques, and/or malleable textiles (commonly referred to as exo-suits)
With each exoskeleton attempt, the military industrial complex has gotten closer to solving these technical hurdles, especially as the commercial sector makes new developments in the associated fields. In particular, the prosthetics community has made tremendous advances in biomechanical sensing. Additionally, numerous players in the consumer product sector are working to develop smarter and more advanced motors. Further, a large portion of the world’s research and development efforts is focused on energy, so lighter and safer power options will soon be available.
Gregory S. Sawicki and others conclude in their article, To make these leaps, engineers will need to continue to improve exoskeleton technology, physiologists will need to refine the evaluation of human performance, clinicians will need to consider how exoskeletons can further rehabilitation interventions, psychologists will need to better understand how user’s interact with and embody exoskeletons, designers will need to account for exoskeletons in space planning, and healthcare professionals may need to update their exercise recommendations to account for the use of exoskeletons. Combined, these efforts will help establish a ‘map’ that can be continuously updated to help navigate the interaction between human, machine, and environment. Such guidelines will set the stage for exoskeletons that operate in symbiosis with the user to blur lines between human and machine. Closing the loop between exoskeleton hardware, software, and the user’s biological systems (e.g., both musculoskeletal and neural tissues) will enable a new class of devices capable of steering human neuromechanical structure and function over both short and long timescales during walking and running.”
Rogier Barents, the founder of Dutch Laevo Delft believes that in 10 years every household will have some sort of exoskeleton type solution. Gaurav Genani, the founder of another Dutch exoskeleton startup, SkelEx, also thinks that ‘in 10 years, powered exoskeletons that augment human strength substantially should be commonplace. In 25 years wearable technologies should have evolved exponentially, resulting in a fusion of advanced materials, sensors, and actuators with the human body’.
Exoskeleton controllers using artificial intelligence
Exoskeleton controllers using artificial intelligence and on-line optimization to adapt to both user and environment may facilitate the transition to ‘real-world’ functionality. Researchers are also developing smart controllers that constantly update exoskeleton characteristics to optimize user walking and running economy. This is exemplified by Zhang and colleagues, who developed a controller that rapidly estimates metabolic profiles and adjusts ankle exoskeleton torque profiles to optimize human walking and running economy.
Experts foresee smart controllers enabling exoskeletons to move beyond conventional fixed assistance parameters, and steering user physiology in-a-closed-loop with the device to maintain optimal exoskeleton assistance across conditions. Scientists have made exciting advances using machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to fuse information from both sensors on the user and device to better merge the user and exoskeleton. These strategies have the potential to enable exoskeletons to discern user locomotion states (such as running, walking, descending ramps, and ascending stairs) and alter device parameters to meet the respective task demands.
AI-powered bionic hand promises lifelike dexterity
Roughly 2 million Americans live with the loss of a limb, half a million of which are without upper limbs. Those seeking artificial hands have faced a landscape of static options offering limited functionality for years. Meanwhile, many of the robotic limbs that have cropped up either have physical buttons or require shaking to activate. They provide a limited number of finger motions, allowing wearers to switch between predetermined gestures.
Engineers at BrainRobotics have created a next-generation prosthetic that’s meant to be more mobile and affordable than other robotic limbs used today. It’s a hand powered by artificial intelligence that gives amputees precise control over each finger, enabling them to perform numerous gestures and grips. The BrainRobotics hand prosthesis connects to a smartphone app via Bluetooth, maintains a charge throughout the day and can be programmed within a few minutes, the company says.
The hand is made using aviation-level aluminum and plastic. To set it up, amputees are instructed to “think” about moving individual fingers and making hand gestures while the prosthetic is attached. Meanwhile, the device measures and remembers what each signal looks like. It’s ready to operate within 15 minutes, the company says. After training, the robotic hand will respond to each of the muscle triggers it picked up during the exercise. So in practice, it can intuitively perform the users’ intended motions and gestures and become more lifelike over time.
In Dec 2020 the hand was undergoing FDA testing, and the company is testing the technology with the people it is intended to help.
In today’s world of brain-powered bionic limbs, highly functioning prosthetics are too expensive to reach many people who could benefit from them, researchers in the field say. The BrainRobotics device seeks to be the answer to that, with prices expected to start 30 percent lower than what’s on the market right now. “The innovation is in the algorithm. It’s in the software,” said Max Newlon, president of BrainCo. “The innovation that gives our users this really precise, lifelike control is what sets us apart.”
The company was born out of Harvard’s Innovation Lab. Initially, it sought to control artificial limbs via brain signals but later found that measuring muscle signals was far more reliable, Newlon said. BrainRobotics developed two versions of the hand: A two-channel prosthetic with two sensors attached to the wearer’s limb and a higher-functioning eight-channel prosthetic with eight sensors.
The company’s two-channel device enables up to 24 hand movements and is undergoing FDA testing, which it expects will be completed within the first quarter of 2021. Its eight-channel device with unlimited combinations of hand movements is next in the pipeline.
Building A Wearable That Can Catch You When You Stumble
For older adults, especially, the consequences of stumbling and falling can bFalls have major impact on individual and collective well-being. Indeed, the direct medical costs of falls have been estimated as high as $50 billion per year. One promising solution is an AI-based robotics system to predict and prevent falls. Beyond the large annual cost injuries incur, when an older person falls, their risk of falling again in the future doubles. But falling can be mostly predictable if we have the right sensing capability, Liu explains. Actuators, or motors that convert energy into torque to stimulate or stop movement, can be used to prevent falls as part of a wearable device.e costly on every dimension.
“We research problems where robots need to apply physical force to humans to assist them — such as activities of daily life like dressing, feeding, walking, and bathing,” says C. Karen Liu, a Stanford associate professor of computer science. Specifically, Liu and her team seek to break new ground in robotic assistance by developing wearable robotic devices to aid in human locomotion.
Still, preventing a fall with AI technology is far from easy. “It’s one of the most complex situations you can imagine, with persistent physical contact between human and robot,” Liu says. “We have to understand how to do this in an effective but safe manner.” Preventing falls with wearable robotics requires two steps: detecting fall-related conditions and using predictions yielded to activate a wearable device. The team has proposed exactly such a detection-and-activation system.
They propose creation of an AI-based system to predict and prevent falls. The research group, which includes Stanford colleagues Steve Collins, Scott Delp, Leo Guibas, and VJ Periyakoil, along with multiple graduate students and other associates, received one of Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence’s inaugural Hoffman-Yee grants to fund their work.
To start, “You need to create an AI system to teach another AI system,” Liu says of the team’s challenge. Specifically, they aim to develop an AI-based “intelligent agent” to simulate human motion and what happens to mobility as a result of perturbation such as tripping over an unseen item or bumping into furniture. “The system will need to figure the most effective way to recover,” Liu says.
The agent is a software-based simulation trained to mimic human locomotion and balance recovery. Simulating motion with AI is faster, much less expensive, and safer than running trials with actual humans or building locomotive robots. Liu says, “There are so many different dimensions we need to consider when studying falling. Physics-based simulation allows us to easily create not just one human model but a distribution of human models to train the intelligent robotic device. That’s the centerpiece of our approach.”
The proposed wearable, at least to start, would be placed around a user’s hip area, in the form of an exoskeletal device — a semi-rigid apparatus that provides extra control and power to muscles in the region. “Eventually, we could move to an exoskeleton covering more of the lower limbs,” Liu says. Once fully trained, the system would use an onboard computer to detect or predict falls by monitoring the user’s acceleration and velocity of center of mass, among other factors. “If the possibility of falling is predicted to be higher than a certain threshold,” Liu says, “the recovery policy will be activated.”
The recovery protocol would apply torque to specific leg areas such as the hip, to change the timing or placement of the next footstep, to prevent falling. “It might help the user take the next step a little faster or make it longer or shorter,” Liu says. The team also aims to augment wearable devices with vision perception to detect fall hazards such as uneven pavement and steer the user away. “In many cases, we would like to have the user preemptively avoid the fall hazards rather than passively recover from a fall,” Liu says.
Moreover, the “system must avoid false-positives [incorrect prediction of a fall] at all costs,” Liu says. “Faulty assistance is worse than no assistance at all. The system that applies torque has to stay off unless the detection system is certain a fall will happen. If it activates at the wrong time, it could actually cause a fall.” Once refined, the system would be tested with older adults and other populations before larger-scale rollout.
Beyond addressing falls, the proposed AI system represents a broader type of solution that provides much more intelligent awareness and understanding of humans interacting with a complex environment. “Being able to understand users and predict their intentions and offer help at the right time is important in many situations,” Liu says. “We’d like to have a wearable device that provides intelligent assistance to complement a user’s motion plan, instead of overpowering their movements.”
That means similar prediction-to-activation systems that could eventually help people with activities ranging from opening doors to lifting heavy objects. But for now, the system Liu and her team are building will focus on helping people specifically with navigation of their daily living environments — one prevented fall at a time.
Exoskeletons for Soldiers: Military Requirements
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. Exoskeletons can improve the current physical capabilities of a warfighter, allowing them to run faster, lift heavier objects and relieve strain on the body during physical operations.
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. Practically, exoskeletons are designed to assist soldiers in a wide array of support tasks, including loading supplies and ammunition, getting heavy missiles onto airplanes, and repairing ships.
Developing a full-body suit that meets the needs of soldiers has proven challenging. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched the Warrior Web program in September 2011 and has developed and funded several prototypes, including a “soft exosuit” developed by Harvard University’s Wyss Institute. In 2019, the US Army’s TALOS exoskeleton project was put on hold.
A variety of “slimmed-down” exoskeletons have been developed for use on the battlefield, aimed at decreasing fatigue and increasing productivity. For example, Lockheed Martin’s ONYX suit aims to support soldiers in performing tasks that are “knee-intensive”, such as crossing difficult terrain. Leia Stirling’s group has identified that exoskeletons can reduce a soldier’s response times.
History indicates that there are two critical factors that all new technologies must account for – logistics and enemy reactions. Unfortunately, exoskeletons have shortcomings in both areas. For the suit to be effective, it must be worn by a large number of soldiers, so the defense community would need to procure a large number of these suits. However, while most uniform items come in standard sizes, each exoskeleton must be custom fit to its user. Additionally, the exoskeleton must adapt as the user’s body changes.
Second, enemies will adapt to any new technology injected into the battlefield. The complexity of a combat suit lends itself to many vulnerabilities, with the largest weakness being the person inside the suit. In the comic books, Ironman can be thrown around and survive; however, basic physics would dictate that the sudden acceleration and deceleration should crush his internal organs, killing him. Though the suit can be built to survive significant blasts and being thrown tremendous distances, the user inside of it would likely still be killed. The logical approach to counter these issues is to take the human out of the suit, which in turn takes away the need for an exoskeleton.
Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) requirements
Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), project intended to build an exoskeleton that could increase the amount of armor carried by a Special Forces operator. Though the TALOS project turned out numerous spin-off technologies, it ultimately failed to produce a suit, citing the standard set of technical challenges associated with exoskeleton development efforts.
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. Dr Nathan Sharps, mechanical engineer at the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Centre (CERDEC) said “The design is for an energy-harvesting exoskeleton to address the needs of dismounted soldiers. “The system can derive energy from the motion of the soldier as they are moving around.” Dr Sharps said the development of exoskeleton technology had been hampered in the past because of amount of power required to run it.
While the suits could improve the mobility and endurance of wearers, the weight of batteries and the fact they would need to be regularly recharged has made the idea attractive in theory but difficult to implement. But Dr Sharps said the latest designs would generate their own power, reducing the need for soldiers to carry spare batteries or stop to recharge them. He said: “The technologies we are developing can produce electricity, which can be stored and used to power batteries. “This increases the longevity of a mission, decreases the need for resupply and reduces the logistics trail.”
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.
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