The military doesn’t quite possess power armor technology like Iron Man, but they’re certainly trying and making great strides toward the use of robotics in military applications. Exoskeletons have been in research for years, and Gizmag has made us aware that Lockheed Martin’s prototype dubbed the HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) is now undergoing testing at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center located in Natick, Massachusetts. Essentially, it needs to be determined just how well it actually works and what it’s truly capable of.
Soldiers often carry lots of equipment, and I have no doubt that the military would load them up with even more if it weren’t a great health risk. An exoskeleton like the HULC is one possible solution, bearing the weight and making it possible for soldiers to not only carry the same equipment (or more) but to do so with less risk of injury due to the encumbrance. One test being run involves two subjects carrying the same equipment, one with the HULC and one with sheer manpower. It will essentially measure how much energy each subject uses in lugging around the burden in equal conditions, including speeds, terrain grade, and duration. HULC reportedly supports loads up to 200 lb, the apparatus itself powered by batteries which last for roughly 12.4 miles of movement. If such an exoskeleton is perfected and deemed worthy of use by the military, it could cut down sharply on injuries such as chronic back problems, strained/torn muscles, and just about anything else you could picture being the result of carrying a massive weight on your back for much of the day.
It will be quite some time before we have full battle armor, providing defense against weapons, flight/hover capabilities, and integrated targeting computers like Iron Man, but this is an important step. In terms of offensive capabilities, one could also imagine an exoskeleton like this making it possible for soldiers to wield heavier and more powerful guns, some of which may normally need to be fired from the ground rather than a standing position. For more awesome exoskeletons in action, check out the XIO Gaming Exoskeleton, this awesome Power Loader, and the Robotic Exoskeleton for Paraplegics.