Feeds

MIT builds load-carrying mechanical boots

JackBoot™? March-o-Matic™? YompBot™?

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

A team of researchers at MIT have developed a rather clever new twist on the conventional powered exoskeleton idea*. Rather than seeking to amplify the strength of the wearer's own muscles, the relatively simple MIT rig is intended merely to transfer the load of a heavy backpack directly to the ground, which allows very low power consumption.

As keen backpackers and foot soldiers are well aware, a person carrying a heavy load uses up a lot of energy merely keeping his pack up off the ground, quite apart from that needed to move it along. This is why those suitcases with the little wheels are so popular, too; but they aren't practical away from nice smooth surfaces. It seems that the MIT team are looking to tackle this issue in the offroad environment, funded by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the mentally box-averse Pentagon boffin bureau.

Man, this tiny backpack sure is deceptively heavy.

The MIT exoskeleton rig consists of a pair of boots with tubular struts running up alongside the leg to the backpack. Most of the weight rides on springs and dampers, the load being effectively jacked up off the ground for the wearer. Actuators come into play merely to make the exoskeleton follow the wearer's leg rather than assist it. This means that the device uses only one watt of power.

Reporting on their work in this month's issue of the International Journal of Humanoid Robotics, the MIT researchers say that the machinery can take 80 per cent of an 80 pound backpack load. However, they admit that it impedes the user's freedom of movement.

"You can definitely tell it's affecting your gait," according to Conor Walsh, a grad student who worked on the project. Even so, "you do feel it taking the load off and you definitely feel less stress on your upper body."

A sole watt of power is far from an outrageous demand in the context of modern soldiering; the Pentagon are hoping to achieve portable tech which will let a footsore grunt carry 1920 watt-hours in his gear. The MIT leg-boinger rig looks a bit more sensible than the petrol-engined "Bigdog" robo-packmule.

That said, foot marching with heavy kit as a dedicated activity is rather going out of military fashion. Soldiers still need to be able to carry heavy gear, but these days it isn't so much because they have to hump rations, tents, bedding etc from bivouac to bivouac; it's because their basic combat load has become so heavy. They're carrying body armour, weapons and electronics nowadays, and they need to be able to react and fight, not simply trudge. That could be a bit difficult with their legs strapped into a restrictive spring suspension rig.

But it's early days yet for the MIT team and their kit. According to Walsh, they're looking to refine the gear a lot before offering it for any military trial.

"This is the first time that it has been tested," he said. "We didn't know what to expect."

The MIT release is here

*Conventional to Reg readers and sci-fi fanciers, anyway. For those newcomers who have failed to acquire a basic classical education, an exoskeleton in this sense is basically a powered mechanical suit which can enhance the wearer's strength and/or speed. Recommended reading/viewing: Starship Troopers, Aliens etc.

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Microsoft's anti-bug breakthrough: Wire devs to BRAIN SCANNERS
Clippy: It looks your hands are shaking, are you sure you want to commit this code?
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.