Bionic Commandos from the Warrior Web

The decade since Sept. 11 has seen the longest period of continued fighting in U.S. history.

Yet — with all the investment in money, diplomatic clout and, most importantly, lives — the ones who risked the most have gone largely unrewarded.
I’m talking about our veterans.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center:

“The wounded warriors of the post-Sept. 11 era are more likely than other veterans, regardless of era or experience with injuries, to say the government has failed to provide them with all the help it should… The newest generation is also ‘far more critical of the Veterans Administration and the medical care that veterans receive in stateside military hospitals.’”

Hmmm. That’s interesting, especially when you consider that combat is less lethal nowadays (for the side with better technology). In fact, proportionally, more soldiers survive shattering injuries now that would have surely killed their predecessors. The numbers:

“Troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan survive 88% of all combat injuries, compared with 72% in Vietnam, 63% in World War II and 44% in the Civil War.”

Not to mention nearly three in 10 disabled veterans say their impairment prevented them from getting or keeping a job at some point in their working lives.

The good news is that new tech is being developed to help our soldiers — injured and not, on and off the field. This same technology will also enhance the performance of astronauts, senior citizens and the aging baby boomer generation!

What’s the solution?

They call it Human Augmentation.

One of the most common and subtly developed injuries a soldier gets comes from a place you may not expect. It’s not gunfire, exploding mines or collapsed buildings.

It’s their bags — their carrying gear, which can easily weigh over 100 pounds.

The load weighs even more while they traverse over long periods of rough terrain. I’m sure you can imagine it. Ankles, knees, hips and lower back, among other vulnerable spots, get the worst.

What’s more, both acute and chronic injuries weigh on not only the physical, but also the mental. Mental abilities that allow soldiers to perform tasks for their missions are taxed under such strains.

So what’s the solution? A new suit.

082913_tir(Credit: DARPA)

In 2011, DARPA started the Warrior Web program in order to develop a soft, lightweight undersuit that would augment physical capabilities. This suit would relieve mental strains that obstruct a soldier’s ability to execute missions.

Comfortable, durable and washable, the undersuit would not interfere with standard clothing, body armor and gear. It would protect injury-prone areas by reducing the stress on joints, promote more efficient and safer movement for activities (walking, running, jumping, crawling, etc.) and significantly boost endurance, carrying capacity and overall warfighter effectiveness. All while using less than 100 watts of power.

From now into December 2014, the prototype will include a mix of core component technologies. The technology would, according to Warrior Web:

  •  “Develop a mix of core component technologies worn at the ankles, hips, knees and upper body
  •  Explore technologies that augment muscle work and increase soldier capabilities
  •  Examine five key technology areas: core injury mitigation technologies; comprehensive analytical representations; regenerative actuation; adaptive sensing and control; and suit human-to-wearer interface.”

The next version of the human augmentation suit would go into development from Q1 2014 to Q3 2016. The human augmentation suit 2.0’s goals include:

  •  “Develop additional wearable technologies not addressed in [the first prototype]
  •  Integrate multiple mature component technologies into a system potentially wearable by 90% of the U.S. Army population, both male and female
  •  Develop and fabricate a prototype that would eventually undergo real-world testing to evaluate its performance
  •  Develop other wearable technologies that assist with injury rehabilitation or physical therapy.”

Did you catch that?

Ninety percent of the U.S. Army could be wearing these high-tech suits one-three years from now. That’s huge.

And if this type of wearable technology can assist in injury rehab or physical therapy, why wouldn’t it be used to help our senior citizens?

Throw away the cane and the wheelchair, and get grandma and grandpa a human augmentation suit!

If that seems a little unbelievable to you, just remember: few people would have believed back in the day that the Internet, originally a military invention, would eventually become civilian tech.

NASA’s X1 Robotic Exoskeleton

DARPA is not alone in their ambition to produce a human augmentation suit.

NASA is working on their own suit with several partners, which could give us a good idea of what human augmentation suits will be like further out in the future.

Their suit could give astronauts superhuman strength on major space missions to an asteroid or Mars.

Currently, their 57-pound X1 exoskeleton has motorized joints at the knees and hips, as well as six passive joints that allow the wearer to turn, flex and sidestep.

082913_tir2(Source: NASA website)

This device has other uses as well. In the short term, NASA officials say it could be used to add resistive force in microgravity in order to improve exercising on the International Space Station.

X1 can even record an astronaut’s vitals each session and stream the data back to Earth, where doctors monitor progress.

The human augmentation suit will play a critical role in NASA’s goal to send astronauts further into space to near-Earth asteroids by 2025 and Mars by the mid-2030s…

Isn’t the future an amazing place?


Josh Grasmick
for Tomorrow in Review

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