Exoskeleton Legs Can Help Soldiers Carry Much Heavier Stuff

Saturday, 18 November 2017 - 12:50PM
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Saturday, 18 November 2017 - 12:50PM
Exoskeleton Legs Can Help Soldiers Carry Much Heavier Stuff
Lockheed Martin
Since scientific advancement moves much faster in comic books than in real life, a full Iron Man suit isn't here yet. But if you're willing to settle for just the legs, then we're getting close.

Since 2014, Lockheed Martin has developed a device called their FORTIS exoskeleton, a set of leg attachments designed to lessen exertion on the wearer's body while they carry out physical tasks. Some FORTIS models designed for industrial use can also connect to heavy tools, and redirect weight from the wearer's arms to keep them from getting fatigued as quickly.



But a recent model designed more for military use, the knee stress release device (K-SRD) could be particularly handy. In a study done by the University of Michigan Human Neuromechanics Laboratory, the K-SRD was found to pretty consistently decrease stress when walking uphill while carrying a heavy load (some more info on that here, as well as a Lockheed Martin press release to congratulate themselves).

Specifically, that load was a 40 pound backpack given to all the test subjects, who had to walk on a treadmill inclined to 15 degrees both with and without the exoskeleton. In the majority of cases, test subjects could exert less energy wearing the K-SRD, allowing them to spend awhile longer on the treadmill before needing a water break. 

It hasn't been tested yet with heavier weights or steeper hills, but the Human Neuromechanics Laboratory seems to have further tests planned in the future, particularly to see whether the K-SRD can handle more urban scenarios like climbing staircases. While the exoskeleton may be sturdy, there's no word on how flexible it is, so it may not be an easy thing to wear around the house if you ever get a hold of one.



The benefits of functional exoskeleton legs are pretty clear, whether in military situations or otherwise. Being able to carry heavy stuff without tiring out as quickly is obviously a useful perk, and for soldiers who have to march from place to place with few stops in between, some exoskeletal help could make that a much less difficult task.

And if the planned "climbing stairs" tests work out, these could end up being extremely useful for first responders like firefighters, who could also make use of the decreased physical exertion.

In general, it's hard to think of physical jobs that wouldn't benefit from an exoskeleton. Short of being Iron Man himself, who has a much nicer suit, augmenting ourselves with technology could be a good way to push ourselves even further without having to train at superhuman levels.
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