Seeking innovative solutions to lighten the load carried by dismounted warfighters, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center awarded US$1.1 million for the testing and evaluation of Lockheed Martin HULC advanced robotic exoskeleton, designed to augment Soldiers’ strength and endurance, as well as reduce load carriage injuries. Dismounted Soldiers often carry heavy combat loads that increase stress on the body, leading to injuries and exhaustion.
HULC is designed to transfer the weight from heavy loads to the ground through the robotic legs of the lower-body exoskeleton, taking the weight off of the operator. An advanced onboard micro-computer ensures the exoskeleton moves in concert with the operator. HULC is an un-tethered, battery powered, hydraulic-actuated anthropomorphic exoskeleton capable of performing deep squats, crawls and upper-body lifting with minimal human exertion.
Under this contract the U.S. Army will test an upgraded HULC system, that includes optimized control software, extended battery life and human factors improvements for quicker and easier sizing to each user.
The contract includes options for field trials to test the system’s utility in operational environments. According to David Audet, leader of the Soldier Mobility and Mission Enhancement Team at the Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts, the test will assess the contribution of Exoskeletons which have the potential to reduce stress on the body from heavy loads.
Researchers at Natick will evaluate how the HULC affects Soldiers’ performance through biomechanical testing, measuring the energy expended by a Soldier when using the HULC. Lab testing will also assess how quickly soldiers learn and adapt to the system, carrying different loads and moving at various speeds. The exoskeleton test will help “redefine what is possible for our Soldiers… HULC will meet Warfighters’ future mobility and sustainment needs” determined Rich Russell, director of Advanced Programs at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. Lockheed Martin is also exploring exoskeleton designs beyond military uses, among them supporting industrial and medical applications.