Powered Exoskeleton suits are not a new concept, the first was actually developed by General Electric and the Military back in the sixties. That suit unfortunately weighed in at 1,500 pounds and had violent uncontrolable movements, which kept them from putting a human inside.
Back in May of 2010 Raytheon Company released news that it was developing a robotic suit for the soldier of tomorrow. Basically a wearable robot that amplifies its wearer’s strength. Then on Sept 27th of 2010 they unveiled XOS 2, at their facility in Salt Lake City, Utah. The newer unit was lighter, stronger and operated much faster. Additionally they enhanced the design of the materials for longer field life and resistance to the elements.
The suit is built from a combination of structures, and is controlled via sensors, actuators and controllers. It’s strength and movement come from a powered, high pressure hydraulics system, this enables the operator to lift weights up to 200 pounds easly. With it’s light weight, ease of operation and quick response, gives the operator the ability to kick a soccer ball, punch a speed bag and climb stairs and ramps with ease.
The potential for these suits are staggering really and their potential uses in all area’s of our lives. The primary consideration was on enabling a soldier to carry heavy objects (80–300 kg) while running or climbing stairs or the wearing of heavier armor and weapons. But in reality, their uses are unlimited.
In the future we could see these exoskeleton suits looking something like those out of star Wars, where the operator is in a fully inclosed protective suit with a heads up display. Getting people out of burning buildings or searching through wreckage, fighting fires, riot control any number of situations.
The suits are facing a major hurdle however, there are few power sources of sufficient energy density to sustain a full-body powered exoskeleton for more than a few minutes. Most designs to date have been tethered to a separate power source. So for commercial use or industrial where the suit would need to be connected to an umbilical, this would be acceptable, but for field use, combat or some others an umbilical would not be acceptable. The potential to run on fuel cells does exist and could be the solution to long term operations.
This is certainly a technology to keep and eye on. As computers become smarter and more capable of human responses and actions, we will see these suits become smarter, and in the distant future possibly be completely self contained and operated by human thought. We Shall See??