Army begins tests on exoskeleton
Source: Lockheed Martin
July 5th, 2011
06:14 PM ET

Army begins tests on exoskeleton

The U.S. Army has started testing an exoskeleton designed to allow soldiers to carry loads up to 200 pounds for approximately 12 miles.

Over a seven week period the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) will evaluate soldiers using Lockheed Martin’s HULC system to see how it affects their performance.

The robotic suit is designed to take a load’s heavy weight off of soldiers and shift it to the ground through the exoskeleton’s legs.

Programmed to move as the soldier does, the exoskeleton senses “what users want to do and where they want to go,” according to Lockheed’s website.

Movements such as squats, crawls, and upper body lifting can be achieved with minimal human effort, the company says.

And with the exoskeleton’s battery power, Lockheed Martin says soldiers will be able to carry their heavy loads on one single charge.

“There has been a lot of interest to look at this as a possible tool to address the larger issue of soldier load in a physical and cognitive perspective,” said David Audet, the team leader of NSRDEC’s Soldier Mobility and Mission Enhancement Team, which is evaluating the HULC.

Ten combat infantry soldiers have volunteered to be apart of the testing, according to Dr. Jeffrey Schiffman, the biomechanics team leader at Natick. Later this week the soldiers will walk on treadmills at 3mph, carrying loads of 80 or 120 lbs for brief periods of ten minutes, Schiffman said.

The researchers will be collecting biomechanical data on human motion and ground reaction forces when the soldiers’ feet hit the ground. Oxygen consumption to see how much energy the soldiers expend when carrying these loads while walking, along with information on muscle fatigue will also be collected.

Following the preliminary walking tests a two hour march is planned for further evaluation.

Field testing at Ft. Benning, known as the “home of the infantry”, would follow these initial tests if successful in October or November, according to Audet.

Lockheed Martin says the testing will help assess what features work “and what changes could be made”.

“This feedback will also form the basis of a rapid development program that will transform the HULC from a technology demonstrator into hardware ready for large scale production,” said Keith Maxwell, Lockheed Martin’s business development manager for the HULC program.

Some adjustments could include adding a weapons mount to the exoskeleton, or the ability for the exoskeleton to hold ship building tools overhead for long periods of time, according to Audet.

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