The Benefits of Exoskeleton Technology

Many people are only familiar with the concept of exoskeleton technology through having watched movies like Ironman, Avatar, and Elysium. While movies may show us a glimpse of the possibilities that exoskeletons may provide, the reality is that the technology is in its relative infancy. This article presents some of the ways in which this technology could be directed to help humanity quickly respond to acts of war, other emergencies, and aid in the rehabilitation of the disabled.

Exoskeleton Battlefield ApplicationsFuture Soilder exoskleton

With the right funding from the United States Government, research in exoskeleton technology can develop further and help limit the loss of human life during battles. The most advanced suits to date are the XOS exoskeleton and the Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) that can enable soldiers to travel greater distances while carrying heavier gear. Heavy weapons can more easily be utilized by soldiers operating in rough terrain, potentially giving soldiers greater flexibility in the deployment of different types of artillery directed toward the enemy. Repetitive lifting tasks will become less exhaustive and will require fewer personnel to perform. A single soldier with an exo-suit could potentially load dangerous and heavy items such as missiles onto aircraft and other methods of transport.[1]

The U.S. military is currently researching a smart armor exoskeleton called the Tactical Assault Light Optical Suit (TALOS), which will equip the user with human strength, sensors, and advanced bulletproof technology.[2] The human strength is created from hydraulic actuators attached to the limbs of the exoskeleton. The hydraulic system acts as a lever, except it can be applied in any direction by fluid pressure.[3] The military is incorporating communication technology into the suit. Communication technology will allow the user to quickly contact with the home base, as well as heads up displays of maps and other important visuals. The suit will have a protective layer that transforms a liquid to a solid in milliseconds, initiated by an electrical current developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, allowing users to go into plain sight of the battle and decreasing the risk of getting harmed.[2] Offensively, the protective layer can help soldiers get close to the enemy to search and destroy or clear the area for additional soldiers to follow suit. The suit not only save the lives of the user but of other soldiers in battle, for wounded soldiers can be easily carried off the battlefield by the suit to a safe area, which will increase the wounded soldiers’ chances of survival.[1] As long as exoskeletons provide strength, stamina, protection, and communication to soldiers, they will be more effective on the battlefield which will lead to battles ending more quickly.

Benefits of master/slave Exoskeleton

Another development in exoskeleton technology is the use of haptic and control systems. Haptic and control systems provide tactile feedback to the operator (i.e., the vibration of a remote control for a video game), enabling them to simulate the feel of the movements and actions of an exoskeleton through the transmission of sensations. The user would wear a full body suit designed to control the movement of a larger robot by applying haptic technology. The robot would be in a master/slave mode, where the robot would mimic every movement the user would do. This would allow the operator to have a higher degree of control over the robot than a traditional user interface would provide, and the haptic system would allow the user to have feedback from the machine if it touches anything. This feature will help the user have a better view and feel of the environment from a far distance. This application can be used to help in many scenarios where the situation is too dangerous for a human to be physically Exoskeleton Shouldernear the source of the emergency. In the case of a nuclear meltdown, where the reactor needs to be cooled down manually but the place is radioactive, you can send in a robot controlled by the master/slave mode. The master/slave mode would be perfect in this situation because the human would be out of harm’s way but can still complete the task and save countless of lives.

In another situation, the idea of a master/slave exoskeleton design can be used in isolated parts of the world, where people have limited access to medical care. A robot in a rural, medically under-served area could be controlled by a doctor who could be on the other side of the world, thereby helping countless people who would not otherwise have access to adequate medical or surgical care. This application can help tremendously in so many situations like wars, space travel, and emergency situations. The master/slave mode can be more effective than any other control systems because it would make the operator feel as one with the robot.

Benefits to the Medical Field

With the development of exoskeleton technology, a person who is in a wheelchair could be able to walk with the use of lower suits targeting the lower extremities. The suits could control or otherwise support the ability of the user to move in a coordinated fashion. Those who are paralyzed in any part of their body might be able to regain mobility. The suit could be used in the upper extremities for those unable to move their arms or neck. It could allow them to be able to move freely and be able to control their actions. People who have been in terrible accidents that left them physically disabled can potentially use these types of medical devices to help their muscle rehabilitate. These medical devices can help improve the patient’s strength and endurance, and aid in returning bone density to a normal level.[4]

Exoskeletons can also be a cost effective alternative to traditional rehabilitation devices. They represent a potential decrease in the number of rehabilitation tools needed and could increase the speed with which recovery is accomplished, thereby decreasing the overall cost of rehabilitation. Because the exoskeletons are mobile and could increase the effectiveness and the accessibility of rehabilitation for the patient at home, this could decrease the number of patients at hospitals and for those who would still require a hospital stay. Therefore, decreasing the amount of time that patients utilize hospital resources would allow nurses and doctors to tend to more patients in need, helping to save time and money.

Conclusion

Overall, exoskeleton technology can help aid in responding to emergency situations, improve battlefield strategies, and help shorten rehabilitation times in the medical field. Exoskeletons can be of service to humanity, no matter if you are in space or in the most isolated place on the planet. It can change the ways wars are fought and the way we approach the rehabilitation of the injured and disabled. Many lives can be saved in emergency situations and rescuers will be put out of harm’s way. The beauty of exoskeleton technology lies in the ability to help people, and that possibility is priceless.

(Images from [5] and [6].)

 

References

  1. C. Hirsh and K. Tyler, Design and implementation of mechanized exoskeletons in the armed forces, University of Pittsburgh: Ninth Annual Freshman Conference, 2009.
  2. M. Deming, Meet TALOS, the U.S. Military's Soon-To-Be Real Life 'Iron Man'.
  3. W. Croll, Engineering Super Strength: Combining Man and Machine..
  4. E. Mikolajewska and D. Mikolajewski, Exoskeletons in neurological diseases – current and potential future applications, Adv Clin Exp Med 20, pp. 227–233, 2011.
  5. Daren Reehl, Powered exoskeleton.
  6. Brandon Martin-Anderson, Exoskeleton shoulder.

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