Light Weight and Low Power Exoskeletons for Injury Prevention are US Army Focus

Developing an expensive and energy-hungry super suit, though a nice idea, might not be the military’s top priority. Augmenting soldiers’ natural strength and protecting them from injuries is another matter: Darpa is now working on a new programme called Warrior Web, which is much closer in inspiration to Batman than Iron Man. Rather than relying on a hard, exterior robotic shell, the Warrior Web suit is described as being a “lightweight, conformal undersuit”, like a diver’s wetsuit.

The undersuit takes a different approach to enhancing soldiers: rather than creating “super soldiers” that can carry much more than a normal human, it focuses on helping troops do what they already do more efficiently and safely: carrying gear and supplies which can reach over 100 pounds (45kg). The idea is that the suit will fit comfortably underneath the uniform and outer protective gear to provide functional and adaptive support. Integrated components and sensors will help to prevent injuries and enhance the user’s natural abilities by supporting joints and reducing the amount of energy a soldier expends. Darpa is also looking at other “novel technologies that prevent, reduce, ambulate, and assist with healing of acute and chronic musculoskeletal injuries.”

2007 DOD statistics about military injuries:

* There were 2.1 million injury-related medical visits, affecting 900,000 service members.
* Injuries were the second cause of hospitalizations, accounting for almost 110,000 days in hospital.
* Injuries were, and are, the leading cause of outpatient clinical visits.
* Musculoskeletal injuries accounted for 68 percent of all limited-duty days and medical profiles; they add up to an estimated 25 million limited-duty days per year.

The injury rate for the Army is 2,500 reported injuries for every 1,000 Soldiers. This means that every Soldier could potentially to go to sick call at least twice a year for a musculoskeletal injury. Injuries that affect the low back, knee, ankle and shoulders account for most of the visits.

The “Warrior Web” suit, according to Darpa, should not require “more than 100 Watts of electric power from the battery source.”Th

The vision of the Warrior Web program is to develop and demonstrate an adaptive, compliant, quasipassive undersuit that will reduce injury and enhance soldier performance. Warrior Web Task A focused on development and demonstration of component technologies at specific musculoskeletal joints, (i.e., muscle augmentation, regenerative kinetics, advanced textiles, sensing and control elements, joint stabilization, biomechanical modeling using OpenSIM, and overall reduced metabolic consumption). Warrior Web Task B seeks the development and demonstration of an integrated suit that incorporates multiple proven component technologies into a conformal, comfortable form factor that is suitable for use by the average soldier. Additionally, Task B performers will be expected to leverage the program’s selected modeling environment, a freely available OpenSIM biomechanical model, in order to perform initial design validation.

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