In discussing his new initiative to boost high-tech manufacturing here in the U.S., the president turned more than a couple heads on Tuesday when he half-joked that “basically I’m here to announce that we’re building Iron Man.” While he later stated in full tongue-in-cheek mode, “I’m going to blast off in a second,” the idea that the U.S. military is engineering exoskeletons for military personnel is very real. Though we’re still a long way from a suit that actually flies, you might be surprised as to how close we are to real life bionic GIs.
The Army, along with engineers at MIT, has been developing a suit they call TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit), which they hope to test this June. The suit is designed to deflect bullets and features 360 degree night vision cameras. It also packs special sensors that can locate a point of injury (should a bullet slip in) and immediately apply a special foam to seal the wound. Navy Admiral William McRaven (excellent action movie name, by the way) said, “That suit, if done correctly, will yield a revolutionary improvement in survivability and capability for special operators.”
Last year, Lockheed Martin was engineering their Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC), which has some pretty amazing super-strength advantages. Having quite an appropriate acronym, the HULC systems are designed mostly to ease the brutal load bearing that modern ground forces have to endure. Using powered titanium leg braces, the HULC suit is designed to divert up to 200 pounds off of a soldier’s back. Lockheed Martin hopes this system could allow somebody bearing a massive load to still move consistently at 3 mph and hit sprinting speeds of 10 mph. At present, a major source of injury in ground soldiers is the wear and tear that heavy packs have on their backs and legs.
Lockheed Martin’s bionic legs could allow the future ground soldier to carry massive loads at less expense to their legs and back. (Lockheed Martin)
Check out Nerdist’s coverage of artificial muscles engineered from twisted strands of nylon; Technicians are hopeful that this type of artificial musculature, which expands and contracts in response to temperature, could be used for just such an application as an Iron Man-type suit.