Lockheed Martin and partners are working on two variants of their third generation exoskeleton suit in what could rightly be described as a spinoff from classical robotics.
Robotics as a whole has been undergoing a renaissance in recent years, driven primarily by two things. First, renewed interest by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) which held a Terminator Challenge this year, which Google won handily. That brings us to the second driving force behind the recent surge in robotics technology; Google’s sudden furious entry into that space. Over the past two years, the tech giant has bought up more than thirty robotics firms from all over the world in a bid to make their vision of DARPA’s request a reality.
Details On The “Ironman” Suits
This brings us to HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) and FORTIS, which is the synthesis of earlier suit concepts, named iHAS and MANTIS. The HULC concept is fairly straightforward. It assists humans in the field, enabling them to lift hundreds of pounds with virtually no effort. FORTIS is more geared toward construction, and specifically, to shipbuilding.
The Department of the Navy has expressed keen interest in these projects, and especially in FORTIS because shipbuilding is a labor intensive process that involves long hours and lots of heavy lifting. Each year, the Navy loses critical time to a number of workplace related injuries, including sprains, back pains, pulled muscles, and the like.
After extensive field tests, the early results of FORTIS have indicated that a worker outfitted in the suit see a reduction in muscle fatigue of up to 300%, and are up to 27 times more productive overall. In short, these suits offer compelling advantages.
At present, even in their third generation, they are a far cry from the movie version. It will be decades before you see a man outfitted in a fully articulated metal encasement. For the time being, these amount to a series of hydraulic assist struts bolstering the arms and legs, but even in this early form, you can clearly see the shape and direction of the technology.
The day is almost certainly coming when you will see fully armored men walking around in suits very reminiscent of what we see in today’s blockbuster movies. Once again, popular culture and science fiction are informing our future. Just as the old Star Trek series ultimately ushered in a whole raft of technologies instantly recognizable in our world today, so too will today’s movies dictate the shape and direction of our technological development on this and many other fronts.
One For All Companies To Keep An Eye On
For now though, we’ll have to content ourselves with the knowledge that the government is highly interested in the current state of the technology, and Lockheed Martin’s funding for future development is secure. For the time being, the military will be the main consumer of these devices, but it won’t be long before private industry gets their hands on them as well, and when that happens, they’ll become mainstream almost overnight, which will serve as fuel for further development. Keep this in the back of your mind as you plan the future of your company.