Research for robotic-type suits for the military has been under the microscope, so to speak, since the 1990’s.
The first actual suit was unveiled in 2002 but it lacked power. As the advancement of technology birthed smaller and more versatile sensors as well as faster microprocessors, many researchers were becoming convinced that a wearable robot - exoskeleton -- should be further considered, developed and perfected; and it has, pending a few tweaks here and there. A compact box on the back of the robot-suit houses the on-board computer and the control systems.
Continued perfection is moving forward; and one research company, out of several, is working under a two-year, $10 Million grant from the U.S. Army. The realization of a motorized human is on the verge of completion. A handful of engineers are on the thresh-hold of fulfilling the military’s fantasy of mechanically-enhanced soldiers that would have the super-human ability to lift equipment weighing 200 pounds as if it were only 30-some ounces.
Using a sensor attached to the wearer’s skin, the exoskeleton detects brain signals sent to muscles. The on-board computer analyzes these signals to determine how it must move and with how much force.
Medical and Military Applications:
The software that commands artificial muscles, as well as control systems, has applications beyond the military. For those who are wheel-chair bound, the possibilities are wide open and remain extremely tantalizing. Developed technology in the field of robotics software has been eagerly embraced by a variety of medical organizations which recognize and have responded to the need for better mobility beyond the wheelchair. An artificially-intelligent brace is being developed to allow paraplegics and the elderly to walk once again. The technology and mechanics involved very much parallel those of the military counterparts.
In 2009, intelligent braces and exoskeletons were used in more than 100 hospitals and welfare centers throughout Japan, with encouraging success. America’s medical arena has followed suit.
As stated, the military exoskeleton responds to movements of the wearer; and provides astonishing load-bearing assistance over any terrain. The user can support up to 220 pounds and walk continuously at a steady pace and cover over 12 miles without stopping and without exertion. Research is looking into using advanced fuel cells to provide up to 72 hours of continual use without impeding a soldier’s movements in any way.
Overview of Functioning:
Mechanical engineering as well as software engineering combine forces to prompt computer-assisted sensors to control the exoskeleton’s systems. A variety of sensors work in perfect harmony to determine force and position factors. The sensors are connected through the Ethernet to computer processors in each leg and arm joint, which stimulate the actuators which are, simply, mechanical devices that convert energy into motion. This delivers up to 200 kg per square centimeter of force through high-pressure hydraulics. As if that weren’t astounding enough, it should be noted that each joint in the arms and legs has its own processing capability and the joints stay in communication with each other on a constant basis.
While the world is accustom to helpful software applications like file sharing by RLink, this goes beyond the normal realms of technology. With everything in place, the wearer can lift 50 pounds placed in each hand while leaving the arm in a horizontally, extended position for a prolonged period of time with no effort --- Astounding!