U.S. Navy to test ‘Iron Man’ suit

DARPA has been in the midst of developing technology to enhance soldiers' strength with technology, and now the U.S. Navy will test and evaluate Lockheed Martin’s prototype for such a suit.

Called the FORTIS exoskeleton, the suit developed by global security and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin is unpowered, lightweight, and increases the wearer’s strength and endurance.

Although the uses of this type of suit are practically endless, it will be used primarily in the Navy shipyard by maintenance personnel who operate heavy tools and machinery.

The exoskeleton works by transferring the weight of heavy loads from the operator’s body directly to the ground. It works effectively in both kneeling or standing positions, and allows flexibility of movements for the operator.

Similar to the suit being developed by DARPA, the exoskeleton will help stabilize and reduce stress on the joints, while creating easy and fluid movements. The possibilities of use by the suit can extend to the battlefield in the future, but for now it will be primarily used by Navy maintenance personnel.

“Ship maintenance often requires use of heavy tools, such as grinders, riveters or sandblasters,” Adam Miller, director of new initiatives at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said in a statement. “Those tools take a toll on operators due to the tools’ weight and the tight areas where they are sometimes used. By wearing the FORTIS exoskeleton, operators can hold the weight of those heavy tools for extended periods of time with reduced fatigue.”

FORTIS was created to work with the natural movements of the body through its ergonomic design, so movement will remain fluid and flexible, so operators won’t be hindered by wearing the suit. Not only will the suit allow operators to work longer and more effectively by reducing fatigue, it will also help prevent injuries. The exoskeleton also adapts to different weights and heights.

While wearing the suit, operators can effortlessly hold objects up to 36 pounds without muscle fatigue or injury. This advantage will help maintenance personnel who work with heavy tools operate the tools as if they are weightless.

The U.S. military has been on the lookout for strength enhancement technology since the creation of DARPA’s Warrior Web program in September 2011. With increasing weight on the soldier’s back, the military has been looking for ways to reduce weight and help soldier’s carry it.

“The load is a critical issue,” Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, a former Warrior Web program manager, said in May when DARPA announced the development of a lightweight undersuit for soldiers. “In Warrior Web, we want to explore approaches which make that kind of load feel, in terms of the effort to carry it, as if its weight has been cut in half. That’s the goal.”

The goals of such suits as the FORTIS exoskeleton and Warrior Web’s undersuit are to reduce injuries and fatigue associated with heavy lifting.

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