By Christy Strawser
(WWJ) To paraphrase Tim O’Brien, soldiers bear the terrible emotional baggage of war — grief, terror, love — plus the tangible weight of weapons.
Lockheed Martin is making the second burden easier to carry.
The US Army is testing a futuristic exoskeleton that some believe gives soldiers “superhuman abilities.”
The exoskeleton uses artificial intelligence to add power and mobility to soldiers, and allows them to carry heavier loads — up to 27 times more.
A study by the University of Michigan Human Neuromechanics Laboratory suggests that battle-equipped soldiers would be less fatigued if they wore Lockheed Martin’s exoskeleton — called K-SRD — on inclined terrain.
“The study demonstrated that all participants conserved energy using the K-SRD, reducing overall exertion,” per a press release.
The study was conducted on four trained participants at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, each wearing the exoskeleton while carrying a 40-pound backpack and walking at various speeds on a treadmill inclined to 15 degrees.
All showed a statistically significant reduction in exertion as compared to performing that same task without the K-SRD unit, the study found.
“The study results show K-SRD’s potential to increase mobility for dismounted troops,” said Keith Maxwell, exoskeleton technologies program manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “By reducing the effort in walking and climbing, there’s less fatigue. This technology can literally help our fighting men and women go the extra mile while carrying mission-essential equipment.”
And it doesn’t just apply to soldiers. Lockheed Martin is now testing the device to see if it could be used by first responders.
“More testing is anticipated and will be expanded to reflect urban scenarios, including ascending and descending stairs with weight to assess potential for first responders,” the company said in a release.
So, how does it work? Still in development, the K-SRD uses a dermoskeleton technology that is designed to counteract stress on the lower back and legs. It’s unknown how much it would cost to buy.
The exoskeleton is a frame that fits around the soldier’s knees and attaches to a wide belt. The belt has sensors that tells the frame where the soldier needs more support. The whole thing is powered by a three-pound lithium ion battery.