Communion Of Dreams

R.A.H. would smile even more.
March 14, 2009, 10:28 am
Filed under: Government, Heinlein, Predictions, Robert A. Heinlein, Science, Science Fiction, tech

Not quite a year ago I wrote about the Raytheon Sarcos powered exoskeleton, which was a major step towards the Powered Armor of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.  Well, now there’s some competition:


Dismounted Soldiers often carry heavy combat loads that increase the stress on the body leading to potential injuries. With a HULC exoskeleton, these loads are transferred to the ground through powered titanium legs without loss of mobility.

The HULC is a completely un-tethered, hydraulic-powered anthropomorphic exoskeleton that provides users with the ability to carry loads of up to 200 lbs for extended periods of time and over all terrains. Its flexible design allows for deep squats, crawls and upper-body lifting. There is no joystick or other control mechanism. The exoskeleton senses what users want to do and where they want to go. It augments their ability, strength and endurance. An onboard micro-computer ensures the exoskeleton moves in concert with the individual. Its modularity allows for major components to be swapped out in the field. Additionally, its unique power-saving design allows the user to operate on battery power for extended missions. The HULC’s load-carrying ability works even when power is not available.

There’s also a video of the thing in action.

Now, this is not Powered Armor.  Not even close.  In fact, it doesn’t even provide support or enhancement for the arms – just the legs.  The “load carrying ability” is nothing more than a extendable arm from the back of the unit, which is worn like a backpack – you could do the same thing with any kind of backpack rig.

That said, this is a very interesting piece of equipment.  It is slimmer and more universal than the Sarcos system.  It packs into a bag the size of a decent sized backpack, and can be unfolded and put on in about 30 seconds.  Without the batteries, it weighs about 50 pounds.  (I wonder what the battery load is?)  As noted, it is worn like a traditional backpack when in use, the main unit looks to be only 4 or 5 inches thick, allowing for another more normal backpack to be put on over it.  It will allow the user to run for prolonged periods at 7 mph, with bursts up to 10 mph, and seems more flexible than the Sarcos system.  In fact, it looks like it wouldn’t be much worse in terms of limitations than the metal-sided knee brace I used to wear while doing SCA combat, and a lot better than the armor most people wear for such activity.  If it actually works as shown, this would extend the functional exertion period of your average soldier considerably, as well as increasing their capabilities in terms of weight carried and speed of movement.

Beyond the purely military applications, I can easily see this sort of system in use to assist those who are partially disabled, as well as in some employment positions.

I doubt that we’ll see these units on the battlefield anytime soon.  But they remind me of the early aeroplanes – those rickety and somewhat jerry-rigged structures which barely flew.  They were of only marginal use in WWI.  But look how far they developed by the end of WWII.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.  Cross posted to UTI.)

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[…] I’ve written about these sorts of things before, but this one does seem to be an improvement over the other versions. And it is good that there is […]

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