The U.S. Army has awarded a $6.9m contract to develop an ‘Iron Man’ exoskeleton to give soldiers superhuman strength and endurance.
Called Onyx, the battery-operated exoskeleton uses a suite of sensors, artificial intelligence and other technology to aid natural movements.
It is being built by Lockheed Martin, and was originally designed to help people with mobility problems.
‘It supports and boosts leg capacity for physically demanding tasks that require lifting or dragging heavy loads, holding tools or equipment, repetitive or continuous kneeling or squatting, crawling, walking long distances, walking with load, walking up or down hills, or carrying loads on stairs,’ Lockheed Martin said.
‘When human strength is challenged, ONYX makes the difference, reducing muscle fatigue, increasing endurance, and reducing injury.’
For the U.S. military, the appeal of such technology is clear: Soldiers now deploy into war zones bogged down by heavy but critical gear like body armor, night-vision goggles and advanced radios.
Altogether, that can weigh anywhere from 90 to 140 pounds (40-64 kg), when the recommended limit is just 50 pounds (23 kg).
‘That means when people do show up to the fight, they’re fatigued,’ said Paul Scharre at the Center for a New American Security, who helped lead a series of studies on exoskeletons and other advanced gear.
‘The fundamental challenge we’re facing with infantry troops is they’re carrying too much weight.’
The $6.9 million award from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is to research and develop the exoskeleton, called ONYX, under a two-year, sole-source agreement.
Keith Maxwell, the exoskeleton technologies manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said people in his company’s trials who wore the exoskeletons showed far more endurance.
‘You get to the fight fresh. You’re not worn out,’ Maxwell said.
Maxwell, who demonstrated a prototype, said each exoskelelton was expected to cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.
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