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ExoSkeletons: A Warrior’s New Friend

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Wouldn’t it be awesome if the Iron Man suit was real?

Someday soon that suit, only slightly less awesome, could be in our military making soldiers run faster, jump higher and carry enormous amounts of weight. The military’s been working on models like this since the 1960’s. It’s only recently that our technology has really advanced to points that are pushing this development forward.

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These exoskeletons will also benefit those with disabilities. Giving people the possibility to walk again due to spinal injuries or muscle wasting diseases.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) had a wish list for a powered armored suit in 2010. It was an pretty ambitious dream. DARPA wanted this suit to pull around hundreds of pounds without the soldier expending much energy at all. It would enable soldiers to carry weapons built for two and carry wounded soldiers off the battle field along with jumping really high and being invulnerable to gunfire. A lot of researchers dismissed the idea.

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Sarcos is a company that didn’t, they embraced it. Run by Steve Jacobsen, the guy who made an 80-ton mechanized dinosaur, he came up with a system that detected contractions in a persons muscles and used them to operate a series of valves. Those would regulate the flow of high-pressured hydraulic fluid to the joints. Those joints moved cylinders with cables attached simulating tendons in a human’s muscle. This was made into a prototype called XOS.

This XOS prototype looked like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, human-insect thing. The XOS is the closest thing to the military’s wish list armored suit.

Sarcos weren’t the only ones building suits, Berkeley Bionics took the suit and made it use less energy so it would actually function long enough to be worth something out in the field. Their research created the Human Load Carrier, capable of operating for 20 hours before it needed to be recharged.

Cyberdyne-HAL-exoskeleton-for-sale

And then there are the Japanese. A company called Cryberdyne (sounds like something out of Terminator) created a suit called HAL with a twist. They incorparted sensors that picked up electrical messages sent by the brain of the operator. What this means is the operator of HAL doesn’t even have to move to make the suit move, XOS would only move when it detected the contractions of muscles. This doesn’t really help someone who can’t move their muscles. All you have to do is think it for HAL.

Defense contractor Raytheon showed off an experimental, wearable robot guided by the human brain in 2010, while another company, Trek Aerospace, is developing an exoskeleton flying machine. The exoskeletal frame has a jetpack built into it flying at speeds up to 70 mph and hovering thousands of feet above the ground.

DARPA has current systems thats weigh about 55 pounds and carry 200 pounds with little energy from the operator. They run quieter than an office printer and at speeds of 10 mph, doing squats and crawls.

If the military gets its way, we’ll be seeing these exoskeletons in battle sooner than later. But how will this revolutionize battle on the field or even peacetime?

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