Exoskeletons are no longer science fiction and superhero stories. The military is testing these devices, and while they are still far from the cinematic prototypes, the first steps have been taken.
Building an exoskeleton is not an easy task. This is for two main reasons. It is very difficult to build a device compact and practical enough so that the system does not burden more than it helps. It was even more difficult to get the mechanical system to move with the body in a natural way that conserves energy rather than fatigue.
The US Air Force this month tested an exoskeleton that will allow troops to load the aircraft with less effort.
Two people did the work of five
The Forge System exoskeleton is designed to increase the strength of Aerial Port Squadron (APS) soldiers using pneumatic leg and back braces. In the US military, these troops are responsible for steering and loading cargo onto cargo planes.
Aerial Port Squadron soldiers push and pull pallets of equipment, drones, food and ammunition, often weighing tons, onto the planes. It also takes a lot of effort to load HIMARS tanks or trucks.
Despite the use of vehicles and trolleys, securing the cargo in the plane is physically very demanding, and overloading them often causes damage to muscles and bones. The Army calculated that APS disability benefits cost the government $31 million each year.
The Forge System is the latest version of the exoskeleton developed by the Californian company Roam Robotics. In October, the system was unveiled at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
As part of the test, two soldiers from the 87th Squadron, dressed in exoskeletons, transported a pallet weighing 1,360 kg to the C-17 Globemaster. The Air Force has reported that four or five men are typically required for such a load.
Military personnel used the exoskeleton to push loaded sleds and climb stairs with cargo. One of the soldiers, Sgt. Sean Storms, said he felt much less pressure on his knees
John Florio, deputy director of the US Army’s Rapid Innovation Center, said the exoskeleton could enable teams to load heavier items onto the aircraft more quickly, saving time and money.
The biggest change for the Air Force is fewer injuries to personnel plagued by chronic injuries
Exoskeletons can be used not only in airports and warehouses. The army also plans to equip medical personnel with them to pick up wounded soldiers and carry them on stretchers.
Exoskeletons are the future of the army
The US military has been researching exoskeletons for years. The Air Force has already tested several such devices. The army is also interested in it.
Among the proposals for the army is the ONYX exoskeleton from Lockheed Martin. It’s basically a robotic, automated knee support. It doesn’t help soldiers jump over tall buildings or carry huge rifles.
What it does is relieve the wearer’s knees and quadriceps. Knees are notoriously prone to injury among soldiers loaded with ammunition and supplies. Quadriceps, on the other hand, get tired quickly when climbing mountain slopes or city stairs.
The military is testing exoskeletons. The soldier in this outfit is so strong that he does the work of several people