Shape of things to comeSuper-strength gear competition heats up

Published 27 February 2009

Berkeley Bionics-Lockheed Martin team challenges the Sarco-Raytheon team for the super solider suit of the future; suit will allow soldiers the wearer to carry up to 200 pounds without much effort — and sprint up to 10 miles per hour in short bursts

Last year we wrote about the “exoskeleton” suit, which senses every movement the wearer makes and almost instantly amplifying it. The suit multiplies the strength and endurance of the wearer by as many as twenty times — in tests, people who normally press 200 pounds found themselves pressing 500 pounds (16 May 2008 HS Daily Wire). The suit was the brainchild of Stephen Jacobsen, a brilliant scientist with Salt Lake City, Utah-based Sarcos. Now, for years now Jacobsen has been involved in a bitter competition with another scientist, Berkeley Bionics’ Hami Kazerooni to see which one of them would win the big contract to build the futuristic suit for American soldiers.

Until recently, Jacobsen had one distinct advantage: he had defense contracting giant Raytheon in his corner, which meant Raytheon’s muscle and deep pockets, government contacts, engineering know-how, and an ability to manufacture the exoskeletons in quantity, if need be.

The playing field is now more even. Last month Kazerooni announced that he had teamed up with Lockheed Martin. Association of the United States Army’s winter conference, Lockheed and Berkeley Bionics showed off their exoskeleton, the Human Universal Load Carrier exoskeleton, or HULC. The super-strength suit attaches to the wearers’ legs, augmenting their power while shadowing their movement. According to Lockheed, HULC enables the wearer to carry up to 200 pounds without much effort — and sprint up to 10 miles per hour in short bursts. Lithium-ion batteries will keep the wearer walking at a normal pace for an hour. The companies also claim that there is a “long-range extended 72-hour mission model,” which relies on JP8 jet fuel (it was not shown at the conference).

HULC will not boost arm strength, like Sarcos’ all-body exoskeleton. A shoulder strap does help with heavy lifting, and HULC does not need to be tethered to a power source as Sarcos’ suit does. This means wearers can crawl and scamper around, uninhibited. HULC is also fairly easy to get on and off — the thing “can be removed in 30 seconds,” according to Defense News. “The HULC can be fitted with armor plating, heating or cooling systems, sensors, and ‘other custom attachments,’” Lew Page notes.

The joint Lockheed-Berkeley team is gearing up for “full-scale trials with the Army” in the standard super-suit, “beginning in January 2010.”