DARPA developing mechanically augmented ‘super soldiers’ using motorized exoskeletons
US soldiers are on the verge of evolving in powerful, new, and robotic ways.
Prototypes of new motorized “super soldier” suits are currently being tested. They are designed to give soldiers an edge, showing promise for enhancing a fighter’s endurance and physical ability, reducing fatigue and injury.
DARPA testing out new ‘super soldier’ suits that reduce soldier fatigue, injury and load
In September 2011, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched the Warrior Web program. This program is paving the way for research and development of new “super soldier” suits that are to be fully functional, wearable, mechanically augmented motorized exoskeletons. This battle layer is designed to be secured under a soldier’s typical uniform, going undetected. These suits will help soldiers carry out tasks with more efficiency and speed.
With the new exoskeleton suit, the weight of 100 pounds of gear could be cut in half. The exoskeleton suit will help absorb the weight of soldiers’ gear as they carry it through challenging terrain. The suit is basically designed to put a spring in soldiers’ steps, while absorbing the impacts on their joints. Components built into the suit will reduce stress on a soldier’s joints. This will reduce injuries and fatigue.
“In Warrior Web, we want to explore approaches which make that kind of load feel, in terms of the effort to carry it, as if its weight has been cut in half. That’s the goal,” said Lt. Col. Joe Hitt.
“The number one reason for discharge from the military in recent years is musculoskeletal injury. Warrior Web is specifically being designed to address the key injuries at the ankle, knee, hip, lower back and shoulders,” he said.
‘Super soldier suit’ may allow soldiers to run a four-minute mile
The suit integrates motors and springs that augment the normal workload carried by the muscles in the legs.
“We’re assessing new technologies that could even allow a Soldier to run a four-minute mile,” Hitt said.
Furthermore, built-in sensors could help measure a soldier’s blood pressure, heart beat and distance traveled. This information could be managed by squad leaders on and off the battle field to assess soldiers’ health conditions in real-time battle conditions.
In the first phase of the Warrior Web program, nine prototype suits were tested on soldiers during a 21-week period. The soldiers put the suits to the tests at the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research Facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Scientists from the Army Research Laboratory Human Research and Engineering Directorate assessed the results, honing in on five key areas.
The areas studied include core injury mitigation, comprehensive analytical representations, regenerative kinetics, adaptive sensing and control, and suit human-to-wearer interface.
“We can have Soldiers wearing the system walking on the treadmill, measuring how hard the foot hits the ground and how hard their muscles are working, and then have them immediately go outside and climb over stumps and downed trees and walk through water to their ankles if we want them to,” said Michael LaFiandra, chief of the Dismounted Warrior Branch at the US Army Research Laboratory. “We’re also developing ways of capturing more of the high-resolution laboratory data in that field environment.”
Suit is possibly 30 months away from being worn by 90 percent of the US Army
DARPA has also partnered with the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts to help make sure that the technologies in the suit integrate with “existing Soldier systems.”
The goal of the Warrior Web project is to produce a suit that can be worn by 90 percent of the US Army population, for both male and female soldiers.
The Warrior Web project is within 30 months from its scheduled completion date, where it will then be matched up against average soldiers in the field. The suit will be tried out in Army field tests like the rucksack march, the marksmanship course and the obstacle course to evaluate the advantages that it gives to soldiers.
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