Elite soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry division in the United States Army based at Fort Drum, New York, will be the first to test exoskeleton technologies from Lockheed Martin that reduces the metabolic cost of transport to improve endurance and reduce fatigue on the modern battlefield.
The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), a developer and tester of new material systems for U.S. Army soldiers, including the Future Force Warrior System, partnered with the 10th Mountain Division in February to prepare the transfer of the exoskeleton technology to the Army.
According to the Army Times, NSRDEC has spearheaded the movement in transferring exoskeleton technologies to the Army. One of the more advanced exoskeleton technologies that will soon be fielded is designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
Army Times spoke with Lockheed officials about the next-generation powered lower-body exoskeleton, ONYX, which has demonstrated its overall capacity to enhance mobility and dramatically reduce fatigue of its users during previous pilot tests.
“Despite the variation in cost of transport difference between participants, the knee-exoskeleton consistently decreased the cost of transport of walking up an incline with a load,” said a report from the University of Michigan in a 2017 evaluation of ONYX.
Lockheed officials said the ONYX device would complete three phases of testing with the Army, starting as early as Fall 2018.
“The first phase will include a six-month development effort in which researchers work on the quality of life portions of making the knee- and hip-focused device fit comfortably and correctly to the soldier’s body,” said Keith Maxwell, senior program engineer of Lockheed Martin’s exoskeleton technologies.
The second phase of the program will start in 1Q19 to upgrade “faster, quieter actuators to the device,” said Army Times. Then the NSRDEC will transition into the third phase in late 2019 for ruggedized operational tests. Army officials told the Army Times that the exoskeleton could be fielded in a combat zone as early as 2021.
ONYX is embedded with sensors that report speed, direction, and angle of movement to a micro-computer attached to the user’s hip. Based on the compilation of data in real-time, the machine works with the human using electromechanical actuators at the knees, to assist knee flexion and extension with limited latency to complete a task.