(This is an article from the old blog)
(WARNING: This article is massively large for no good reason other than I love talking about cool things. Normally my articles are not this large. If you thought my article on music and its instruments was big. Then you may want to avoid this one. Last word count was at 2540. That is just short of the standard word count for a short story!)
Exosuits and their larger counter parts, Robotic Mech suits, have been a fantasy of many for decades. We have been dreaming about them so long in fact. That they tend to be seen in the same visions of the future as flying cars and jet packs.
Humanity as a whole has always sought some form of enhancement in some way. Either through training the body, taking medicine, following the doctrines of a belief system, or through inventions. Everything we use today was created for the reason of making our lives easier through enhancing our original capabilities.
Even the clothing you are wearing is part of it. Clothing to protect you from the cold and the sun; to keep you safe from being scratched and scraped up by your environment, and to alter your outward appearance so as to look appealing to yourself and others. All of this falls under our goal of enhancing ourselves through what we make and what we do.
Exosuits are the next step to reaching that goal. But how far will we take exosuits before we move onto the next step? Well that is part of my question for you today. In order to help you answer it, let me give you a glance at what we are doing today with exosuits.
To kick this off right, let’s start with the military application of exosuits. I can see it already, there are a few of you out there that can’t stand the idea of military and science being in the same article, let alone in the same sentence. As unfortunate as it is, military and war; drive science and innovation just as much as convenience and curiosity. Not to mention militaries tend to write the biggest checks when it comes to inventions.
So with that said, let me introduce to you the TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) and what I like to call the KOS (Kinetic Operations Suit) I abbreviated it to KOS just because its actual name is just too long to type and say whenever it comes up, the company making it seems loathed to abbreviate it themselves.
This is the TALOS, it is officially being developed by SOCOM (United states special operations command.) This image was taken in 2013, so I imagine the TALOS looks differently now.
|KOS front full view|
|KOS Power Supply Pack|
This is the KOS, it is being developed by Revision Military and just so they don’t get mad at me. I will, this one time, say the KOS’s full name. Revision Military’s Kinetic Operations Suit (see how long that is?).
Both have just about the same design goal, keep the soldier alive and relatively unharmed while also increasing their mobility and field capabilities.
There are only minor differences so far in regards to how it works, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of what they have in common, then tell you the differences.
They both aim to increase the amount of armor and gear that a soldier can carry by building a basic exoskeleton frame around the lower body and the torso, since these two are the main load bearing sections of the human body. An added bonus to this is the increased mobility do to the exoskeleton supporting the body’s movements.
Both suits also come with a full suite of comfort and medical components. For the comfort part, they come with cooling liquids that run through tubing in the suit’s under armor. This liquid will cool the wearer down as the liquid cycles through the tubing. As to the other end of the spectrum, it is said that they will be adding a heating component further down the line, as soon as they figure out how to do it without using up too much power.
The medical suite will be using the exosuit’s extreme amount of sensors to monitor the vital signs of the wearer and notify them if something is wrong. Hopefully it will come with suggestions as to how to fix the problem, or at the very least notify the medic if there is one nearby.
Now to the differences:
The TALOS is planned to have a near full body exoskeleton, only place without one is going to be the head. The armor is supposed to cover in between 70% and 80% of the body. As you can see in the image of the prototype, that is a lot of armor. Do to the near full body exoskeleton, the wearer will also have increased strength.
The suit will be utilizing a new form of armor, that is being called liquid body armor. I wasn’t able to find the name of the material being used for this new type of armor, however, there is a polish institute called Moratex that is developing a similar body armor that uses non-Newtonian liquid called shear-thickening fluid STF for short. If you don’t know what non-Newtonian liquid is, try and remember back to your chemistry or science classes where they had you make and play with glop, the stuff you make with cornstarch and water.
The idea of this liquid body armor is to reduce the overall weight (since the current vests weigh much more than a vest of this liquid) and increase the flexibility, without compromising on protection. While in its liquid state, the armor is almost like regular clothing, so you are able to bend and move almost freely. When it is time for battle, the liquid armor that TALOS will use, will be hit with a magnetic field; forcing it to become a solid. Kind of reminds me of batman’s cape from the recent movies with Christian Bale.
The last bit of difference is the power supply. The TALOS will use a basic battery pack while also carrying a pretty cool combustion engine, and yes, I know what you’re thinking. “A combustion engine? Really? So they are going to run around with half the team hauling a big generator?” While that is a funny image, no they won’t. The engine is being developed by Liquidpiston, and is called the X mini. Here is an image of it.
This is what it looks like without its casing.
This little guy runs at 10,000 RPM and has a theoretical efficiency of 75%. All while only having two moving parts, the shaft and the rotor. So far, testing has shown it to be just as quiet as most gas powered recreational RC aircraft, if not a little quieter. The X mini will also be multi-fuel capable, able to use gasoline, diesel, and JP-8 (jet fuel), all while weighing 3 pounds. Now back to the exosuits. The TALOS isn’t going to be running the X mini the entire time it is operating. The plan is for the TALOS to use the X mini to recharge its batteries.
It’s the KOS’s turn next. The KOS will only be using an exoskeleton on the lower body and the waist, while using a spinal support system to help with carrying the load. You can see it up there in the KOS power supply pack image, it is that black thing that looks like it is sticking out the bottom of the power supply. Do to Revision opting out of the full body exoskeleton, the wearer won’t have the boosted strength that the TALOS boasts, but the KOS isn’t really about the strength, it focuses more on the speed and mobility of the wearer.
It does this by using a lighter polyethylene armor that covers only 60% of the body, which is still a lot more than the mere 10% that the current vests cover. Instead of relying on the liquid based armor to provide mobility, the KOS’s polyethylene plates are lighter and placed to cover vitals without getting in the way. This allows the exoskeleton on the lower body to only have to lift the minimal amount when the soldier drops their pack, it is theorized that without excess gear, a soldier can double their sprinting speed in the KOS.
KOS also has a full coverage helmet also made out of polyethylene, with the helmet comes a support system designed to make sure that the wearer’s neck is load free, since the support system is meant to help hold the helmet’s weight with the assistance of the power supply pack. The helmet also has a cutout for the augmented vision devices, such as night vision and thermal imaging goggles.
The last bit of difference is the power supply, the KOS uses batteries designed and built by Revision. These batteries are able to supply power for up to six hours, then can be replaced or recharged.
Before we move on from military to civilian use of exosuits, let me address the military aficionados out there that are probably losing their minds and yelling at me “Nathan! You’ve got it wrong! TALOS isn’t a suit but an initiative by SOCOM that states specific requirements for an exosuit.” And to that I say, thank you for knowing your stuff, and also paying attention. However, here is a tidbit most people seem to lose track of. TALOS is also a suit that is being worked on for and with SOCOM to fulfill those requirements.
So, now that we have that straightened out, let’s move onto the civilian side of exosuits.
Currently there are two exosuits out and about in the civilian world. We have Lockheed Martin’s Fortis, and then we have the ReWalk, both of them are pricey and beyond what most people can afford. For instance the ReWalk costs just a little over $69,000. But setting price tags aside, these exosuits are awesome and deserve some spotlight. Let’s start with the Fortis.
This is Lockheed Martin’s Fortis, pretty cool huh?
The Fortis, is more exoskeleton than exosuit, but for simplicity’s sake we will call it an exosuit. This exosuit, is designed to help factory workers go about their daily tasks, and not walk away with aching backs and limbs with a dash of back surgery later on in life. It also comes with the added bonus of keeping things efficient. The Fortis has a slight edge on all the other exosuits out there, it doesn’t need power. That’s right, Fortis is completely mechanical. Using springs, strong frames, and some ingenious engineering, this exosuit does its job without needed to take a break and recharge.
The point of the Fortis is to simply take the literal weight of the job off the backs of the workers. Its arm (which Lockheed Martin playfully call the ZeroG arm) is designed to lift up to 39 pounds, and absorb that so the worker doesn’t feel any of it. It does this by transferring the weight of the attached tool, to the arm, then down to the waist part of the exosuit, then down the exosuit’s legs.
With the ZeroG arm, a worker can pick up a tool that weighs up to 39 pounds and hold it indefinitely. However, the magic doesn’t stop with the arm, the legs are also designed to lock the joints into place at various angles, allowing the worker to sit on them like a chair, taking the weight off of their legs.
As to how the worker is able to remain upright while carrying a 39lb tool at arm’s-length. There is a counter weight system at the waist, just above the tailbone. You use it by place actual weights on a rod then bolt them into place. This is cool but I think it is time to move onto our next exosuit, the ReWalk.
This is the ReWalk, designed by the company with the same name, ReWalk.
The ReWalk, was designed to help people who were either stuck in wheel chairs or stuck using walkers. To be able to walk and get around without needing someone there to help. As to exactly how it works. I have to admit I don’t know, I imagine ReWalk wants to keep that to themselves. I can guess though that it works by moving your legs for you with minimal input. Meaning you begin to move your thigh and the exosuit guesses what you want to do. Then moves the rest of your leg for you, and you maintain your balance by using the crutches. Even if I am way off on how it works. In the end it is still an awesome machine. Allowing people who can’t walk, or can’t walk well, to be able to.
Now, I originally planned for the ReWalk to be the end of this article. Then I would go on to ask the question. But while I was on my adventure through the endless archives that we call the internet. I found a new exosuit that is still in its research phase. I thought this was so cool, that I had to show it to you before asking the question. Let me introduce to you, the Soft Exosuit.
This is the Soft Exosuit, being researched and developed at Harvard in their Biodesign Lab. This exosuit, doesn’t use a typical exoskeleton like all of the rest, this instead uses what they call innovative textiles. These textiles take the form of the rigging, just like the exoskeleton, allowing them to build the exosuit inside the textiles. But that is just the beginning, the fun starts with what this exosuit does and how it does it. This exosuit is designed to assist you in your walking. It doesn’t do this in the same way an exosuit normally does it. Instead of taking control of the entire leg and moving it. This exosuit assists the leg in small but precise ways and at exactly the right time.
A good way to explain the difference is by a quick analogy. Imagine that a normal exosuit that takes control of your legs. Is like standing on your dad’s feet as a kid, and your dad is walking around, carrying you. While the soft exosuit is more like putting a spring in your step.
The soft exosuit has these little sensors that stretch. When placed on the body, these sensors will stretch and compress as you move. This will then tell the soft exosuit what you’re doing. Then, the suit figures out how to help you do what you’re doing. I would love to tell you more about the soft exosuit. However, I have gone waaaaaay over my word limit for this article as it is. So I am just going to ask my question now. And leave you with this link to the Soft Exosuit’s website page. http://biodesign.seas.harvard.edu/soft-exosuits
So, my question for you today is this. How integrated will Exo-suits become in our society? And would you wear one if affordable and safe?
P.S. If you managed to read through all of this article. I have just one thing to say to you. YOUR AWESOME! That is all.