This Is The Australian Defence Force's Take On Exoskeleton Technology

Exoskeleton technology — the use of an external wearable framework that augments a human’s natural physical ability — is one of the most interesting developments in modern military science. Like many other countries around the world, Australia is developing its own version.

Gizmodo has previously covered exoskeletons that can help soldiers aim their guns better, assist firefighters in dangerous situations and even make anyone who wears them ten times stronger — but if these technologies exist, why we aren’t seeing platoons of Iron Man-style super soldiers being deployed already?

“Most [exoskeletons] are complex, require power and increase the user’s energy cost,” explains Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), While electromechanical exoskeletons are great toys for scientists and bored billionaires, the military has generally not been enthusiastic to commit resources to them.


First Steps

This is where DSTO’s Operations Exoskeleton (formerly known as the NoREx) comes in. It's a a minimalist take on exoskeleton tech that could see action in the field within 2 years. Presenting the new design in Canberra this week, DSTO’s Tom Chapman explained his list of grievances with ‘traditional’ electro-mechanical exoskeletons, calling them “heavy, power hungry and awkward,” with joints that can never quite keep up with the complex range of motion for the human body. The way that most exoskeletons work today means that, while you may be able to lift ten times the weight you can normally lift, it also takes far more energy to do so.

DSTO’s solution to this problem is radically different — and not least because its take on the exoskeleton is entirely non-powered. Instead of augmenting the wearer’s physical capabilities, the Operations Exoskeleton instead aims to reduce physical strain and with it the likelihood of injury or fatigue. If other military exoskeletons bring to mind science fiction’s beloved power suit, the DSTO’s take on it is closer to fictional tech that can make heavy burdens weightless — even without the advantage of zero gravity.

The Operations Exoskeleton can’t bear 100% of the weight of a pack — yet. It’s currently closer to 66%. That's till a huge improvement to carrying that weight on our relatively flimsy human frames. Especially for an exoskeleton that allows a soldier to retain much of their natural mobility, needs no external power to run and weighs barely 3kg.

Aussie soldiers can be required to carry more than 85kg into combat. Meanwhile, that suitcase you complain bitterly about lugging 500 metres to bag check at the airport is likely under 21kg, the standard weight limit for most airlines. This exoskeleton’s ability to ease more than 50kg of that weight is going to literally be a weight off our troop's shoulders. The suit’s system of flexible cables work passively, transferring part of this carried weight directly to the ground.

It may not have the raw power of the Iron Man suit being developed by the US Army, but the Operations Exoskeleton still manages to achieve high tech results with low tech concepts.

Don’t be surprised if this technology finds a multitude of civilian applications as well — backpackers or hikers who can’t bring themselves to travel light might find it particularly useful. The Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation only has a proof of concept at the moment and, as Chapman noted during the tech pitch Gizmodo attended, using it apparently feels "really weird". The Operations Exoskeleton is one of the most functional exoskeleton designs currently being developed, so we'll be watching the progress closely.

This post originally appeared on Gizmodo Australia


Comments

    This is actually awesome. I was expecting a tongue-in-cheek type of article about spiders or beer but I actually would be really keen to try out one of these rigs.

      Just imagine how much beer you could carry around with one of these, though.

    Or, alternatively, how may spiders.

      Maybe it's time we start making use of our two most abundant natural resources and weaponising them.

      I'm referring to snakes and spiders of course.

      Last edited 24/08/15 10:30 am

        If this isn't already considered a war crime, it probably will be soon. That's pure evil!

          The Funnel Web Cannon is banned by the Geneva convention.

          Seriously weaponising Spiders beside being my nightmare, is against the rules of warfare laid down in the Geneva convention.

          Now the long, long road of training my army of spiders. Maybe I can make them tiny spider exo suits.

          Here's a rough draft I drew up http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/ghostintheshell/images/e/e7/Tachikoma.gif/revision/latest?cb=20101030165606&path-prefix=en

    Even better...the huge amount of spiders and beer you can carry inside your backpack

    "hello, and welcome to the next generation of wearable exoskeletons designed for the Australian Defense Forces, named the Collins Class Walker. In this Generation instead of making more of a racket than whales humping, you can sound like a herd of elephants stampeding into the dead of night at your foes."

      You know the Colins Class has won every naval wargame it has been in, they are only noisy at full speed, you know like every submarine. We are just louder at full speed than the others.

      It is also due to its new armament the most deadly submarine in the world at the moment because England and America have not deployed the Torpedoes that where designed as part of a joint venture.

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