The Ministry of Defence has invested £1m on its latest recruitment – a robotic mannequin to test protective suits designed to defend soldiers from chemical and biological agents.
Engineers built Porton man using advanced, lightweight materials developed for Formula One racing cars. He is able to walk, march, run, sit, kneel and can even lift his arms to aim a weapon – just like a real soldier.
Scientists are using Porton man to study the effects of nerve gases like sarin and other toxic warfare agents on chemical, biological and radiological suits used by the UK armed forces. The robot has over a hundred sensors on its 'body' that make recordings during the tests which scientists can analyse in real time.
The mannequin is the latest generation robot to be designed at the MOD's defence, science and technology laboratory (DSTL) in Porton Down, Wiltshire – the only laboratory in the world of its type.
Previous versions were less advanced and much heavier – Porton man weighs 14kg (30lb) instead of 80kg (176lb). Jaime Cummins from DSTL's chemical and biological physical protection group said the company hoped the mannequin will help produce even lighter-weight protective suits in the future.
Jez Gibson-Harris, chief executive officer of i-bodi Technology, the company that designed and built the mannequin, said: "Our brief was to produce a lightweight robotic mannequin that had a wide range of movement and was easy to handle. Of course there were a number of challenges associated with this and one way we looked to tackle these challenges was through the use of Formula One technology. Using the same concepts as those used in racing cars, we were able to produce very light but highly durable carbon composite body parts for the mannequin."
Philip Dunne, minister for defence equipment, support and technology, said: "This technology, designed by a British company, is enabling the UK to lead the way in this important testing. Increased investment in science and technology by MOD is not only enabling battle-winning and life-saving equipment to be developed, but also helping innovative companies like i-bodi Technology to develop cutting-edge capability."
Watch video of the robot soldier in action