Pentagon's robotic exosuit program making strides.

Author:Harper, Jon
 
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* Scientists and engineers are pushing forward a cutting-edge U.S. military robotics project that could reduce war fighter fatigue and ward off injuries.

The Warrior Web program, spearheaded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, aims to significantly lower the "metabolic cost''--or energy expenditure--of troops operating in the field, and reduce the physiological burden of the gear that they carry, which can exceed 100 pounds.

To accomplish this, the Defense Department and the private sector are developing soft robotic exosuits that are designed to provide power and torque to critical body joints.

To accomplish this, the Defense Department and the private sector are developing soft robotic exosuits that are designed to provide power and torque to critical body joints.

"Then what we want to do is use cables to apply force... [and] give some assistance to the joints in a way that doesn't add a lot of weight or a lot of mass to the legs of the wearer," he added.

Sensors on the system monitor the movement of the user and control the timing of the cables, he said. They give commands to a microprocessor that tells motors when they should pull in order to apply assistance to the wearer.

The initiative began in 2011. Since then, at least 15 Warrior Web prototypes have been tested in laboratories and outdoor settings, according to Mike LaFiandra, chief of the Army Research Laboratory's dismounted warrior branch, human research and engineering directorate.

DARPA has partnered closely with the lab and the Army's Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center to advance the program.

Demonstrations were conducted in April at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

"Some of the systems didn't fair very well and some of them were great," LaFiandra said.

Additional tests and demonstrations have been conducted at Natick, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and academic institutions such as Harvard. More are slated for later this year, and the spring and summer of 2017.

"There's still research that needs to be done there but for the first time, we've been showing a reduction in metabolic cost with soldiers carrying heavier loads wearing a Warrior Web-type system," LaFiandra said.

The amount of reduction depends on the individual wearing the suit, but researchers have seen greater than 10 percent in some cases, he said.

The amount of reduction depends on the individual wearing the suit, but researchers have seen greater than...

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