HULC is a lower-body, electro-hydraulically-powered exoskeleton designed to lift and carry heavy loads. It transfers weight through the machine’s frame to the ground, significantly reducing operator fatigue and exposure to injury. Additionally, HULC’s self-contained power supply eliminates external power cords or hydraulic lines that restrict deployment.
The HULC Lift Assist Device allows single operators to safely lift heavy loads that currently require two or more people. The Lift Assist Device, easily mounted on the back of the HULC exoskeleton, maintains users’ normal lifting and motion range. This lightweight, power-assisted device has multiple end-effectors that are quickly and easily exchanged to enable lifting and carriage of various boxes, containers and munitions.
The device’s counter-balance weight keeps the center of gravity close to the operator to maintain balance and positive control. Using gripping and winch sensors, an onboard micro-computer ensures the exoskeleton moves in concert with the individual to maintain balance and accurate object placement.
Lockheed Martin continues to research and develop exoskeleton capabilities, including more efficient power systems and additional designs for industrial, medical and a wide range of mission specific applications.
The ruggedized HULC system incorporates multiple design changes to increase reliability and performance in operational environments. New environmental sealing and packaging give the system’s electronics increased protection from natural elements and battlefield hazards. Lockheed Martin also leveraged commonly-used, military-standard rechargeable batteries to increase operational run time.
Lockheed Martin further refined the HULC’s form and fit, allowing the operator to adapt to the exoskeleton in less time. The ruggedized structure allows for rapid, repeatable adjustments to the torso and thigh length, without special tools, to better suit a wider variety of users. It also conforms to the body and incorporates lumbar padding for comfort and support. Additionally, the upgraded HULC features improved control software to better track the user’s movements.
Biomechanical, dynamic load and environmental verification evaluations of the ruggedized HULC are under way. Treadmill testing will measure anticipated decreases in metabolic cost as the HULC assists the user with heavy loads. Sand, wind, rain, temperature and humidity testing will replicate harsh environments and verify combat durability.
It is instructive to look at the exoskeleton system that is closer to being deployed by the military, the Lockheed HULC. Lower body power system. They are ruggedizing it and making it lighter and quieter.
HULC, the Lockheed Martin (LM) powered robotic exoskeleton is being extended in its range to support 72+ hour extended missions. LM is working with Protonex Technology Corporation to evaluate and develop fuel cell-based power solutions that can be carried by the HULC, while at the same time powering the exoskeleton and the soldier’s mission equipment during extended dismounted operations.
The titanium HULC instead runs on a four lithium ion batteries nestled into the small of a soldier’s back. Eight batteries can power the HULC on missions up to 96 hours.
Larry Fisher, research director of ABI Research’s NextGen practice, “We anticipate that completion of the Army’s field tests and trials, probably in 2014 or 2015, will be followed by widespread commercial production of powered exoskeletons. Deployment of exoskeletons in commercial sectors will probably remain quite limited for another decade or so, due to their high cost (more than $25,000 per suit).”
The overall market for exoskeletons, powered prostheses and optical sensory devices is expected to exceed $877 million in 2020. Exoskeletons will make up roughly a third of the market by 2020 on a revenue basis, accounting for sales of $292 million, and slightly more than a third on a unit basis, with more than 11,000 to be delivered between now and 2020
There was a 2004 analysis of power systems for future warriors. It looked at batteries, fuel cells, combustion engines, and microturbines.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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