For decades or better to tell centuries, war has been one of the greatest spurs to science. Developments as numerous and far-reaching as space travel, superglue, duct tape and microwaves owe their origins beneath camouflage netting and behind sandbags, closely related or directly coming from the military. In fact, that means that most of the innovative things which changed the life we have today come from military innovations. That is not different today, though, today’s innovations are focused not just on getting the job done, but doing the job as quickly as possible and bringing the soldiers back home in one piece.
The realities of war and possible usage of exoskeletons
For decades, the USAF (U.S. Air Force) used simulations for training in a virtual environment, but now, soldiers are able to put their skills to the test in virtual reality combat zones. Now soldiers and special forces operators are using head-mounted displays (HMD) or VR glasses such as Oculus Rift. That means that they easily can explore various scenarios. From administering first aid to wounded soldiers (TCCC) while under enemy fire to a realistic 360-degree 3D environment that changes the image with the movement of the head and the body. This is achieved through an in-built tracking system. Some battlefield simulation programs are even more realistic still, and some are still secret and not publicly known.
Future soldiers, equipped and powered by exoskeletons may have long been a staple of science fiction, but now they’re becoming a reality. The meaning of the word exoskeleton is coming from the Greek word ‘outer skeleton’ and they are inspired by the hardened shells of the insect world and involve a frame of hydraulics which magnifies the leg and arm movements of the wearer, allowing them to take more simple strides and carry greater weights, similar like those in Sci-Fi (science-fiction) movies.
Military exoskeletons trialed as far back as the 1960s – such as General Electric’s Hardiman – were able to increase the magnitude by a factor of 25.
This made lifting 25lb (11kg) loads as easy for the operator as lifting 1lb (0.5kg), and had force feedback – similar to an Xbox or PlayStation controller – so the operator could get an idea of the resistance that he or she was experiencing.
These first designs were ultimately unsuccessful as the early exoskeletons reacted unpredictably – and sometimes violently – to anything less than gentle movements.
While many current exoskeleton designs have medical uses in mind, XOS and XOS 2, developed for the US Army by Raytheon-Sarcos, Hercule by firm RB3D, and Human Universal Load Carrier, better known by its acronym HULC, are primarily military endeavors. Those projects are ultimately going to deliver some new gadgets in a certain future.
Our thoughts are that warfare will soon become far more digitalized and powered by machines and there will be no such need for human operators as it was before, but it still remains to be seen. It’s still hard to imagine that one day it will be similar like in Terminator, but it is certain that exoskeletons are real and their time has just come.