HULC exoskeleton system ready for soldier tests
A robotic exoskeleton that makes it easier for soldiers to run and carry heavy weights is to go through final testing in the US.
The HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) allows soldiers to carry weights of up to 200lbs (91kg) with little effort and is designed to reduce the strain of carrying heavy equipment.
It works by transferring the load to the ground through the exoskeleton's titanium legs and uses an onboard computer to sense and mimic the user's movements.
The battery powered device, which can fit different body sizes, also allow for jumps, squats, crawling and slow-speed running.
"It does not impede your range of motion whatsoever," says HULC project manager Jim Ni.
"Just imagine you're a soldier operating at 6,000ft in the Afghan mountains and being asked to take 120lbs up there in the thin air.
"An exoskeleton allows you to carry that weight the same distance and have energy left to execute the mission when you get there."
Although the HULC weighs 53lbs (24kg), its makers say it also transfers its own weight to the ground, making it virtually unnoticeable.
Lockheed Martin, which makes the device, has reworked an earlier prototype and produced a new "ruggedized design" that will begin an eight week lab test at the end of 2010.
The testing will look at how quickly people learn to operate the system and measure the energy a soldier uses when using the HULC.
"The tests will help us assess the current state of the technology," said David Audet, from the US Army's Natick Soldier Research Center.
"Exoskeletons have the potential to reduce stress on the body from heavy loads."
After the lab tests, the HULC is likely to go through more field tests in 'real-life' military scenarios during 2011.