The useful future for exoskeletons is not the vision of iron man but old and crippled Batman using an exoskeleton

The comic book reference whenever exoskeleton developments are announced is Iron man. However, the major societal impact for exoskeletons and exosuits is to replace wheel chairs and crutches for the disabled and for frail elderly. This was shown in the Kingdom Come series in DC where an old and crippled Batman (Bruce Wayne) used an exoskeleton to walk around.

The US military has several exoskeleton and exosuit projects.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Warrior Web program is a step closer to developing a soft, low-powered exosuit that will augment the physical capabilities of soldiers. Worn under the uniform, the proposed suit will allow troops to carry 100-plus pounds of equipment without risking the joint and back injuries that typically accumulate in the field.

The Warrior Web program, which is also supported by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), just wrapped up its first phase in which it tested exosuit components in the lab and the outdoors, says Mike LaFiandra, Dismounted Warrior Branch chief at ARL’s Human Research Engineering Directorate. In their next step, engineers will test how various pieces developed by different program participants perform when integrated into one suit.

Arizona State University is currently developing an Air Legs-Version 2 exosuit, seen above, that allows a weighed-down soldier to sprint a mile in four minutes. The next step is to increase that range beyond one mile by switching out the backpack-mounted pneumatic actuators (which pull on cables attached to the user’s knees and ankles) for more sustainable electro-mechanical devices. “We feel that that will be our next major milestone,” says Human Machine Integration Laboratory researcher Jason Kerestes.

The Air Force is developing Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) for the U.S. Special Operations Command. The armored exoskeleton will still need to address motor control and power supply issues before it it can be built and developed.

There is a Fortis exoskeleton to help workers move heavy objects.

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