Army's exoskeleton to help soldiers carry the load
- By Kathleen Hickey
- Jul 10, 2013
The Army is working from the outside in to help ease the burden for soldiers in the field, developing prototypes of an exoskeletal suit, called Warrior Web, that is moving toward real-world testing, commencing in the fall.
Soldiers often carry 100-pound loads for extended periods over rough terrain. This added weight increases the risk of musculoskeletal injury, particularly on vulnerable areas such as ankles, knees and lumbar spine, as well as increasing physical fatigue.
The aim of the Warrior Web, designed to be worn under a uniform, is to significantly boost endurance, carrying capacity and overall warfighter effectiveness. The flexible suit can be thought of as super-charged long johns – no stiff parts, so more technically an exosuit than exoskeleton -- that uses no more than 100 watts of power.
The suit focuses on soft tissues connected to the skeletal system for injury prevention to reduce forces on the body, decrease fatigue, stabilize joints and help soldiers maintain a natural gait under a heavy load.
“Other novel technologies that prevent, reduce, ambulate and assist with healing of acute and chronic musculoskeletal injuries are also being sought,” The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said in a release.
In addition to reducing injuries, the exosuit will use its web structure to improve a soldier’s ability to carry heavy loads by imparting “joint torque at the ankle, knee, and hip joints.” The system “uses a multi-camera motion-capture system to determine any changes in gait or balance, a cardio-pulmonary exercise testing device to measure oxygen consumption and a variety of sensors to collect force, acceleration and muscle activity data,” DARPA said.
Testing of the suits is in two phases: Task A (Warrior Web Alpha), a five-month series of tests currently nearing completion, and Task B (Warrior Web Bravo). Task B, commencing in the fall, will aim to develop an integrated suit using technology developed under Task A and testing it under real-world conditions. The tests are being conducted by the Army Research Laboratory’s Human Research and Engineering Directorate.
Civilian versions of Warrior Web could help with physical therapy, people with mild mobility issues, such as arthritis, or those needing to carry heavy burdens, such as construction workers.
The Warrior Web exoskeleton is one of several exoskeleton technologies being developed. A battlefield exoskeleton called the Human Universal Load Carrier has been developed by Lockheed Martin to divert up to 200 lbs in weight through powered titanium legs. A second exoskeleton, the X1, being developed jointly by NASA and the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, could help wounded soldiers or those who have lost their mobility due to disease or accident, to walk again.
Meanwhile the Army is also looking at developing an exterior exoskeleton -- a futuristic infantry uniform called the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit -- that “promises to provide superhuman strength with greater ballistic protection. Using wide-area networking and on-board computers, operators will have more situational awareness of the action around them and of their own bodies,” according to an Army release.
"[The] requirement is a comprehensive family of systems in a combat armor suit where we bring together an exoskeleton with innovative armor, displays for power monitoring, health monitoring, and integrating a weapon into that -- a whole bunch of stuff that RDECOM is playing heavily in," said. Lt. Col. Karl Borjes, an Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) science advisor assigned to Special Operations Command.