The new exoskeleton technology the Navy is testing has more in common with Ripley from ‘Aliens’ than Tony Stark from ‘Iron Man,’ but it is a step in the right direction for powered and augmented suits to assist sailors complete their work.
On August 18th, Lockheed Martin announced that they had sold two of the FORTIS exoskeletons to the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences for evaluation by the Navy. The FORTIS exoskeleton is “an unpowered, lightweight exoskeleton created for light industrial overhead work.”
The exoskeleton is designed to help workers and sailors distribute the weight of heavy tools and allow them to work longer by distributing the weight of the tool through the framework. It is unpowered and really not much more than a frame for holding tools comfortably. Lockheed has said that FORTIS can reduce fatigue by 300% and improve productivity by 200% to 2,700%.
“It’s for holding heavy tools, grinders, painters and welding,” said Adam Miller, of Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control division. “If you take a tool that’s 30 pounds… a guy could hold that tool for three minutes, then have to take a 10- to 15-minute break. But if the FORTIS is holding that, you can go maybe five to eight minutes. Then you shake your arms and keep on going.”
Other branches of the military are also evaluating exoskeleton technology. Lockheed Martin is working with the Army to develop the HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) exoskeleton, which is a powered exoskeleton that transfers the stress of carrying heavy loads off of the wearer’s body without the loss of mobility. Although there are major differences between the two suits, the HULC has an onboard power source and computer, proving their functionality in field conditions will advance our understanding of exoskeleton technology and lead to more widespread use in the military.
The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) wants to develop a light infantry armored exoskeleton suit to provide ballistic protection to Special Ops Forces. TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) is a combination of multiple technologies in one protective suit, the closest thing we are working on to an Iron Man suit, now.
“We’re hoping to take products we’re developing in several technology areas and integrating them into a consolidated suit to provide more protection for the [Special Operations Forces],” said Michel Fieldson, TALOS lead, SOCOM.
Once the technology has been developed, it will be integrated into the TALOS suit and create a powered armored suit with higher levels of protection, and advanced weight-bearing and mobility capabilities that are independently powered and controlled by the wearer.
Although much of the technology is in the early stages, the military is certainly moving forward with protective and powered protective suits for warfighting use. If you add rockets to it, it sounds like Iron Man. Maybe we are closer than we thought.
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