Friday, February 27, 2009

I wish I'd had this during my service!

I'm intrigued to see that load-bearing exoskeletal 'suits' for soldiers are now becoming a real and practical possibility. The latest development is from Lockheed Martin, who partnered with Berkeley Bionics to produce something they've called HULC - for Human Universal Load Carrier.

Lockheed Martin's press release announced:

Dismounted Soldiers often carry heavy combat loads that increase the stress on the body leading to potential injuries. With a HULC exoskeleton, these loads are transferred to the ground through powered titanium legs without loss of mobility.

The HULC is a completely un-tethered, hydraulic-powered anthropomorphic exoskeleton that provides users with the ability to carry loads of up to 200 lbs for extended periods of time and over all terrains. Its flexible design allows for deep squats, crawls and upper-body lifting. There is no joystick or other control mechanism. The exoskeleton senses what users want to do and where they want to go. It augments their ability, strength and endurance. An onboard micro-computer ensures the exoskeleton moves in concert with the individual. Its modularity allows for major components to be swapped out in the field. Additionally, its unique power-saving design allows the user to operate on battery power for extended missions. The HULC’s load-carrying ability works even when power is not available.

Lockheed Martin is a leading provider of advanced technology solutions for the Warfighter including ground Soldier systems such as wearable situational awareness equipment and mobility assistance systems. Future advancements in exoskeleton technologies will focus on specific user communities, shifting energy and performance requirements. Lockheed Martin is also exploring exoskeleton designs to support industrial and medical applications.

Very interesting! Here's Lockheed Martin's publicity video for HULC.

With painful memories of humping a very heavy load of gear for many, many footsore miles during my military service, I can only hope - for the sake of today's servicemen and -women - that HULC, or something like it, is rapidly developed to production status. It'll be a Godsend!



Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating technical achievement, but this poses some interesting questions.

Suppose a small unit is using one of these, and one breaks? I imagine you could plan for the loss of the added mobility from this device, though.

Also, how much noise does it make, and of what sort? A rustle in the grass is one thing if you're trying to sneak around, but what about something obviously man-made?

This could be useful indeed for EMTs and other persons who must lift heavy things on a regular basis.


Loren said...

Japan has had a powered suit in production for a few years now, though the creator has declined to work on military applications:

We've always been behind Japan in many ways though.

FarmGirl said...

I've been waiting for the power armor a-la Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie) for a while.

Between the heads-up displays, and the HULC, we're mere baby steps (technologically speaking) from full coverage body armor that helps carry itself, shows the soldier where everyone else is, and carries whatever weapons we can cram onto it.

It's the future, folks, and we're living in it.

Anonymous said...

I dunno. Having never served, the first thing I thought was that the Docs would have a lot more shrapnel to dig out of me when I am hit....

But I may be way off base.


KD5NRH said...

...and, of course, the safety glasses, just in case that round goes off...