We have already seen how the Navy is developing an exoskeleton to assist workers with repetitive tasks and being able to work for longer in uncomfortable positions. Now, two new programs have hit the news. The first is a jetpack that helps a person run faster, and the second is a ‘soft’ exoskeleton that helps support the user’s joints and reduce fatigue while walking.
Jason Kerestes, an engineering student at Arizona State University, is developing a forced air jet pack that will help people run faster. It doesn’t fly, but it provides horizontal thrust so that runners will move faster. The jetpack, created in Kerestes’ welding shop, generates enough thrust that runners show a marked improvement when using it. The 4 Minute Mile project (4MM) is still in the testing phase, but using the jet pack, a subject was able to beat his unassisted time in a 200-meter sprint by 3 full seconds.
The improvements in longer distance were of a smaller percentage; it shaved 18 seconds off of a mile run, but the device still is in development.
Harvard’s Wyss Institute also made the news with its soft exoskeleton. This ongoing project is designed to support a user’s joints when they are walking. Initially developed to prevent injuries, the technology behind the soft exoskeleton can also help people walk further with less fatigue. Medical usage is also being explored to assist people with limited mobility.
Both of these projects are backed by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) that seeks out new technologies and programs for integration into the military. DARPA assistance has helped a number of programs over the years from inception to creation.
Technologies like these, which help servicemen do their duties better and faster, are an important part of keeping our technological edge. By going outside of the services for ideas and concepts, creativity and a ‘fresh’ approach to problems can be had.
These technologies are taking us down the road to powered armor for soldiers. Soft exoskeletons that allow you to go further, jet assisted movement that let you carry heavier loads faster, and a host of other programs that, once they are combined, will give our soldiers a much larger qualitative edge than any of the programs we have seen in the last 20 years.
Of course, the cost for suits would be high, and the idea of equipping an entire force with them would probably be prohibitive, but for a small, elite force it might eventually be an option. The new technologies that are being tested and explored could make a fundamental change in the way we view war and soldiers.
And to think, we might be seeing the genesis of this change, right now. Who knows… we may be seeing a version of Iron Man in the near future.
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