Most military programs don’t coordinate news releases with major motion pictures. With Iron Man in theaters and getting reviews that may get DID’s staff to go see it, Raytheon is taking the time to promote its US Army-funded exoskeleton suit. Originally funded under a 7-year, $75 million DARPA program, the suite has now gone on to the next stage under a 2-year, $10 million follow-on Army grant:
The problem they’re trying to address is no stunt. The weight of a soldier’s equipment easily approaches 80-100 pounds, far higher than the 30 pounds recommended for maximum mobility. As we load our soldiers down with more technical gadgets, that weight tends to go up, not down. The USA and Japan are only a couple of the countries working on aspects of a mechanical exoskeleton that would give its wearers vastly improved strength and endurance. While Japanese demographic and cultural trends in particular are giving concepts like individual soldier augmentation a push, we can still expect a very long wait before we see exoskeletons that can deliver the required performance to justify their cost, can handle military conditions, and can be maintained in the field at reasonable cost. It’s far more likely that first fielding, if there is one, will involve more limited use by disabled soldiers, or be used like Cyberdyne Japan’s HAL-5 in private, para-public, and first responder roles. Raytheon release | Raytheon feature | Popular Science [PDF].
April 13/17: Lockheed Martin has secured legal permission to explore the potential use of exoskeleton technology for the military market. The firm secured licensing of bionic augmentation technology from B-Temia and will incorporate it to supplement its FORTIS industrial exoskeleton project. Designed to make labor easier by transferring pressure through the exoskeleton to the ground in a process that makes heavy tools “weightless,” the system requires no external power to operate, and can boost military capabilities by enabling soldiers to carry more equipment over longer distances. The product can be used in standing or kneeling positions, and uses a tool arm to reduce muscle fatigue and boost productivity.