Exoskeleton

Superhuman strength has always been confined to science fiction, but advances in human-performance augmentation systems could give soldiers the ability to lift hundreds of pounds using the effort they would usually use to lift a fraction of that weight.

In the shoulder of the Future Force Warrior uniform is a fabric filled with nanomachines that mimic the action of human muscles, flexing open and shut when stimulated by an electrical pulse. These nanomachines will create lift the way muscles do and augment overall lifting ability by 25 to 35 percent.

"Think of yourself on steroids, holding as much weight as you want for as long as you want," said Atkinson. "It will also allow a 90 pound male or female to carry a 250 pound male or female off of the battlefield and it wouldn't feel like they were carrying 250 pounds worth of person."

The exoskeleton attached to the lower body of the soldier will provide even more strength. The overall exoskeleton will provide up to 300 percent greater lifting and load-carrying capability.

"The Exoskeleton, which is in conjunction with DARPA, will give the soldier more stability," Atkinson said. "It makes the soldier become a weapons platform."

With this added strength, weapons can be mounted directly to the uniform system. In the concept uniform (at right), the exoskeleton is the protruding composite material you see below the knee.

The exoskeleton will merge structure, power, control, actuation and biomechanics. Here's a look at some of the challenges that DARPA has outlined:

  • Structural materials - The exoskeleton will have to be made out of composite materials that are strong, lightweight and flexible.
  • Power source - The exoskeleton must have enough power to run for at least 24 hours before refueling.
  • Control - Controls for the machine must be seamless. Users must be able to function normally while wearing the device.
  • Actuation - The machine must be able to move smoothly so it's not too awkward for the wearer. Actuators must be quiet and efficient.
  • Biomechanics - Exoskeletons must be able to shift from side to side and front to back, just as a person would move in battle. Developers will have to design the frame with human-like joints.

As warfare changes, armies are looking for any advantage they can get against potential enemies. The new Future Force Warrior suit will take human performance to unprecedented levels. Imagine a platoon of soldiers wearing suits that turn an ordinary person into a real, live superhero.

For more information on the Future Force Warrior and related topics, check out the links on the next page.