Lockheed Martin's Fortis Knee Stress Release Device (K-SRD) – an exoskeleton designed to lessen leg strain on soldiers walking uphill with heavy loads – has been tested on a group of four participants, according to a report in Army Technology.
As part of a study conducted by University of Michigan's Human Neuromechanics Laboratory, four trained experts wore the Fortis exoskeleton and carried as much as 40 pounds (around 18kg) of weight on their backs while walking on a treadmill inclined at 15 degrees.
The subjects kept varying their speeds in order to demonstrate real-life situations, which could sometimes require troops to walk fast or run over rough terrains. They also performed the same physically-demanding task without any gear.
Ultimately, the results of the test showed significant differences between both scenarios. When wearing the exoskeleton, participants conserved energy and witnessed a significant reduction in exhaustion, while without it, they were quick to suffer from fatigue.
"The study results show K-SRD's potential to increase mobility for dismounted troops," said Keith Maxwell, exoskeleton technologies programme manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. "By reducing the effort in walking and climbing, there's less fatigue. This technology can literally help our fighting men and women go the extra mile while carrying mission-essential equipment."
The Fortis exoskeleton, which interestingly looks like a piece of Iron Man's tech, works on Dermoskeleton bionic augmentation technology, which uses advanced sensors to reduce the amount of stress on the knees and lower back.
Information about the soldier's speed, direction and angle of movement is captured by the sensors and used by a software to generate synchronised movement at the motorised knees. This ultimately assists with the knee flex and extension and reduces energy consumption while lifting or dragging heavy loads on inclines or stairs.
The technology could have major implications in the military and enable soldiers to carry more supplies and heavy weaponry over long distances.
But it is worth noting that the benefits of this tech are not just limited to soldiers. It could even be used by firefighters, who have to climb several flights of stairs quickly during emergency situations.
There's no word on when this tech is likely to be incorporated, but University of Michigan researchers are moving ahead with other tests. They will soon conduct the next round of tests, which will be used to demonstrate the exoskeleton's viability in urban scenarios, such as ascending and descending stairs.