Thursday, March 14, 2013

See the insect, be the insect

GE Hadiman - Source: Adifruit Industries

Exoskeletons aren't just for insects anymore. As we humans are so good at, we've modified nature to our own benefit and adapted the concept to assist us in various areas of our lives. And this technology has come a long way from GEs bulky 1960s Hardiman robotic suit.

Exoskeleton technology can be made for the whole body or partial body. They use sensors and controllers to power hydraulic-driven components to overcome the limits of the human body.

Alrighty, so three main fields come to my mind when I think "exoskeleton tech": medical, industrial, and of course military.

Medical Application
It's always nice to start technology posts with areas that benefit humanity as a whole and not just for advancements of new toys to kill the enemy better and faster. Because of this, I'm starting with the medical field.

Ready? Okay, here's my opening statement for this section: Exoskeleton advancements will tremendously improve the quality of life for many patients.

Pretty snazzy statement huh? Awe-inspiring, prolific and all that jazz...

Cyberdyne's HAL suit, which is already rentable in Japan for the elderly, is hailed as a nursing-care suit and designed to detect appendage movement and guide the motion in a natural way. So, if you have weakness in your arms and can't fully extend it, HAL will finish the motion for you. It also helps balance you and stabilize yourself as you walk or climb stairs. (Source: Popular Science)

HAL - Source: Cyberdyne

Although there are pretty cool exoskeleton body-bracing systems out there for paraplegics, I was really drawn to the prototype out of Berkeley California, the Austin, because it's actually affordable for a larger population. (Source: PC World)

Industrial application
Okay, remember the payload exoskeleton from Aliens? (Man, Ripley was one of my favorite female heroines!) Well, think that but less bulky... and less kick ass and you've got the modern payload exoskeleton systems for use in the industrial setting.

Panasonic's Powerloader Light, for example, helps the user carry an extra 88 lbs and shifts weight as needed to counteract the walking motion. (Source: Hightech)

Military Application
Last but most certainly not least, DARPA has been funding the development of this technology for military use since at least 2001. And for those of you who don't know what DARPA is... well, you're just not paranoid enough and beyond my help.

As of 2010, it was down to Raytheon's OXS 2 and Lockheed's HULC super-soldier suits. With these suits, soldiers can walk or run for hours, carry loads up to 200 lbs effortlessly, and lift up to 500 lbs or more without breaking a sweat. (Sources: Popular Science, Hightech-Edge)

As a mom of a son getting ready to join the Marines in mere months, I have to say this interests me greatly. Now if only they could beef up their superman tech to dodge bullets I'd be a happy camper.

Little side trip: this dodging bullets bit might be happening with the breakthrough of nanotechnology. A nanotechnologist at the University of Texas has developed a way to chemically grow nanotubes like tiny muscles. The micro particles contract with voltage and are energized by hydrogen and oxygen. These things are 100 times stronger than human muscle tissue, and when woven into fabric become a second, stronger "skin" for soldiers that can stop bullets. (Source: Spiegel)

How cool is that?

For some reason, this reminds me a tad of Robert Heinlein short story, The Beast, where the animal he's tracking on a remote planet turns out to be an escaped engineered human fighting machine who'd lost his humanity.

So, there is my little geek trip. I haven't had a to use this in one of my stories because I mostly write far future stories where unmanned military technology reigns.


  1. I was thinking about Ripley in Aliens before I even read that far. Way to fight off a giant alien queen, eh?