Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/02/27/lockheed_exoskeleton/

Lockheed offers ready-to-go supersoldier exoskeleton

Jetfuel powerpack, armour... shoulder turret?

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 27th February 2009 12:18 GMT

US weaponry globocorp Lockheed is pleased to announce the unveiling of its newly-acquired powered exoskeleton intended to confer superhuman strength and endurance upon US soldiers.

Needless to say, corporate promo vid of the Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC™) is available:

The exoskeleton is based on a design from Berkeley Bionics of California, but Lockheed say they have brought significant pimpage to the basic HULC. The enhanced version is now on show at the Association of the United States' Army Winter Symposium in Florida.

"With our enhancements to the HULC system, Soldiers will be able to carry loads up to 200 pounds with minimal effort," according to Lockheed's Rich Russell.

From the vid, the HULC certainly seems a step forward on Raytheon's rival XOS mechwarrior suit, which at last report still trails an inconvenient power cable to the nearest wall socket.

Not so the HULC; four pounds of lithium polymer batteries will run the exoskeleton for an hour walking at 3mph, according to Lockheed. Speed marching at up to 7mph reduces this somewhat; a battery-draining "burst" at 10mph is the maximum speed.

The user can hump 200lb with relative ease while marching in a HULC, however, well in excess of even the heaviest combat loads normally carried by modern infantry. There'd be scope to carry a few spare batteries. Even if the machine runs out of juice, Lockheed claims that its reinforcement and shock absorption still helps with load carrying rather than hindering.

There are various optional extras, too. The HULC can be fitted with armour plating, heating or cooling systems, sensors and "other custom attachments". We particularly liked that last one: our personal request would be a powered gun or missile mount of some kind above the shoulder, linked to a helmet or monocle laser sight.

One does note that remote-controlled gun mounts weighing as little as 55lb are available, able to handle various kinds of normally tripod- or bipod-mounted heavy weapons.

You'd need more power, but that's on offer. According to the Lockheed spec sheet (pdf) there's an extended-endurance HULC fitted with a "silent" generator running on JP8 jet fuel. A tankful will run this suit for three days, marching eight hours per day - though presumably at the cost of some payload.

Doubtless other power options could be developed: Lockheed says the HULC needs 250 watts on average.

It's important to note that the HULC is basically a legs and body system only: there's no enhancement to the user's arms, though an over-shoulder frame can be fitted allowing a wearer to hoist heavy objects such as artilery shells with the aid of a lifting strop.

The HULC may not be quite ready for prime time yet. But the military exoskeleton as a concept does seem to be getting to the stage of usefulness, at least in niche situations for specific jobs.

The BigDog petrol packmule, an alternative strategy for helping footsoldiers carry their increasingly heavy loads, may now have a serious rival. ®