Army tests bionic suits designed to lighten soldiers’ loads

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Published June 07, 2013

| Military.com

The U.S. Army is finishing a series of independent tests on suit prototypes that soldiers could wear under their uniforms and help them carry combat loads that can often exceed 100 pounds.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — the lab the Pentagon depends on to develop next generation equipment — has spent two years working toward developing a suit that supplements a soldier’s muscles to help the soldier carry his gear and equipment over all types of terrain.

Army officials had soldiers test out the prototypes while carrying a 61-pound load on a treadmill (video below). Scientists and engineers wanted to see if the prototypes could “reduce forces on the body, decrease fatigue, stabilize joints, and help soldiers maintain a natural gait under a heavy load,” according to a DARPA statement.

The program is called Warrior Web and part of the military’s larger effort to lighten the load for troops and reduce the number of muscular and skeletal injuries that have ravaged a force that is often carrying more than half their body weight on patrols.

The goal is to build a lightweight, conformal undersuit — similar to a wet suit — that is comfortable for a soldier or Marine to wear. The suit would interface with a servicemember’s skeletal system in order to protect injury prone areas and boost the performance of muscles.

DARPA engineers and scientists know they can’t further burden a soldier or Marine with a system that demands more power and weight, therefore, DARPA set a limit on the suit only requiring 100 watts of electrical power from a battery source.

The program is split into two tasks. The first, which is ongoing, is focused on developing new technologies to eventually support the suit. Those focus areas are: “core injury mitigation technologies, comprehensive analytical representations, regenerative actuation, adaptive sensing and control, and suit human-to-wearer interface,” according to the DARPA fact sheet.

The second part is the development of the actual suit. That portion of the program is set to begin this fall. What the Army is testing now are prototypes that might be used in the second portion of the overall program.

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