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Superhuman Strength

Forget being a superhero. You just need some help hoisting rice at the supermarket. An exoskeleton, like HULC or HAL (hybrid assistive limb) pictured here, can help you do that.

Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

The human body can be conditioned to endure extreme environments, but some situations call for strength above and beyond our natural abilities. On the battlefield, soldiers need to carry heavy loads over extended periods and through harsh terrains. So to push the limits of physical exertion, scientists have developed a way to let technology bear some of that burden.

Berkley Bionics and Lockheed Martin's Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) exoskeletons are an example of such innovation. HULC, through its titanium legs, does for human skeletons on the outside what adamantium did for Wolverine's skeleton on the inside, turning its wearer into one tough customer.

Its titanium legs are mounted to a backpacklike frame, which houses a power unit and a small on-board microcomputer. One of HULC's most impressive features is the fact that it requires no joystick or manual control mechanism. Not unlike Iron Man's famous suit, the device can sense the operator's intended movements, and it reacts accordingly.

To minimize the strain borne by the user, its design uses hydraulics, which make the deep squats and heavy upper-body lifting seem as easy as the blink of an eye [source: Lockheed Martin]. Right now, its applications are specifically military-minded, but the defense giant is exploring options for its use in industrial and medical capacities [source: Berkeley Bionics].

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