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US Army Furthers Development of Robotic Suits 233

An anonymous reader writes "The BBC reports on advancements in the US military's robotic exoskeleton program. It's being spearheaded by Sarcos, a research laboratory in Utah. The firm has designed the XOS exoskeleton for US Army use, a lightweight frame that gives the user greater strength and endurance. 'With the exoskeleton on and fully powered up, Rex can easily pull down weight of more than 90 kilos, more than he weighs. For the army the XOS could mean quicker supply lines, or fewer injuries when soldiers need to lift heavy weights or move objects around repeatedly. Initial models would be used as workhorses, on the logistics side. Later models, the army hopes, could go into combat, carrying heavier weapons, or even wounded colleagues.'"
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US Army Furthers Development of Robotic Suits

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  • by locokamil ( 850008 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @11:13AM (#23105150) Homepage
    I'll bludgeon you to death with my wounded comrade!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by dolphinling ( 720774 )

      I'll bludgeon you to death with that exoskeleton's user person!

      ..."User person"? Seriously, who writes these things?

  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @11:15AM (#23105192) Homepage Journal
    I want an advanced armored exoskeleton. Make it fly too. I can do without the repulors if I MUST, but please do give me a big flamethrower and a chaingun on my model. Maybe some shoulder mounted RPG's too?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Moraelin ( 679338 )
      Nah. This is clearly a BattleTech Elemental [] armour. Or will end up used as one.

      Now what I want is a proper []. I mean, they just need to make this thing 10m tall and give it a nuclear reactor as a power source, right?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Look up "high center of gravity" and get back to me on why Mechs are a colossally stupid idea.
        • by emilper ( 826945 )
          so, humans are a "colossally stupid idea" too ?

          Bipeds are a lot more efficient for walking, it just requires some extra computing power to keep them balanced: I suppose this is the reason you find bipedal animals, other than the humans, only in places where saving energy is really important, such as dry savannas or deserts.
    • by AHumbleOpinion ( 546848 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @11:43AM (#23105730) Homepage
      I want an advanced armored exoskeleton. Make it fly too. I can do without the repulors if I MUST, but please do give me a big flamethrower and a chaingun on my model. Maybe some shoulder mounted RPG's too?

      And here we have another person that will seem to drop off the face of the planet once Starcraft II ships. Please remember not to play for 48 hours without sleep while consuming only nachos and soda, we wouldn't want you to permanently drop off the face of the planet. OK, maybe not "we" but "somebody" out there would care. ;-)
      • Thank you. I needed a good laugh today :)

        I am actually addicted to Medieval 2: Total War at the moment, but I am anticipating losing many hours to Starcraft II. I usually accompany my gaming with better fare though. A nice homebrewed IPA and some cheddar perhaps, or even some smoked salmon.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Abreu ( 173023 )
      Instead of Iron Man references, I'd say instead that the US Army is now in charge of Gundam
    • Re:No Iron Man tag? (Score:4, Informative)

      by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:18PM (#23106354) Homepage
      Here I was thinking this was intended for the Mobile Infantry. Go get 'em, Juan Rico.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Cjstone ( 1144829 )
        Stay on the bounce, ape.

        Heinlein was either able to accurately predict the future of the military, or he directly inspired it. In fact, a Marine Corps general stated that the corps' future equipment and organization needed to emulate the Mobile Infantry from Starship Troopers.
        • Re:No Iron Man tag? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by emilper ( 826945 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:28PM (#23108470)
          Heinlein was in the army in his youth. No need to predict "the future of the military": armor has to be heavy to be truly effective, but if it's heavy, it limits the mobility of the soldier. Generals have been drooling for ways to make soldiers able to carry bigger guns and thicker plates for millennia.

          Tanks are only a compromise, since you get only one cannon for 4 to 6 crew: crew members are much harder to replace than tanks or cannons, and they would be a lot more effective and less vulnerable if you could spread them instead of having all 4 in the same place.

          During WWI, before armored vehicles became used, old style armor was tried, but it was too heavy: one example here (not in English, but the pictures don't need translation) [] ...

    • Re:No Iron Man tag? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:23PM (#23107446)

      I want an advanced armored exoskeleton. Make it fly too. I can do without the repulors if I MUST, but please do give me a big flamethrower and a chaingun on my model. Maybe some shoulder mounted RPG's too?
      The problem is that you're still a squishy human inside. It would make more sense to operate robotic weapons platforms remotely, in conjunction with decent enough local AI on the unit itself. The scifi example would be from Night's Dawn where the are no starfighters per se, that role is taken over by combat drones called wasps. The mothership releases the wasps and those unmanned units perform the high-G maneuvers that would turn humans to jelly. The mothership than then move along a saner flight path, not having to worry about combat G-loads on the passengers.

      Harry G. Stine's old Warbots series seems like a more realistic view of high-tech combat in the future, not as much Starship Troopers, though I would dearly love to have a combat suit like that. :) In the Stine setting, VR jacks into the human nervous system have been perfected. Soldiers could operate in the field in conjunction with unmanned warbots. These were not wise-cracking droids, they had all the personality of a Predator drone. The humans could fight in conjunction with these robots, sending them ahead to draw fire, directing them with a greater level of precision than could be had back at base. They could also use a limited VR to give more precise instructions than could be achieved with verbal commands. For very complicated ops, the operators could use a VR immersion device like the chairs in Matrix to go under and teleoperate the robots.

      The other factor that made these weapons so effective was a god-like view of the battlefeld thanks to sensory fusion software and tiny observation robots. You know how you can see everything so well in video games but generals on the ground are stuck with maps and radio reports? Imagine having a view of the battlefield as detailed as the video game, and pushing the fog of war back to boot. That's what they're already working on at the Army testing ranges today, using low-observable drones to loiter over the battlefield.

      Now if we ever get the quantum entanglement stuff sorted out and can come up with an untrackable instant communication technology like the ansible of scifi, then hooooooly shit. Right now the biggest drawback to remotely operated robots is that the AI's just aren't good enough yet to rely on local control in the event contact is lost. Predator drones can continue their mission on autopilot and fly back in range but the last thing I want to see is an armed combat bot on the ground trying to pick targets without a human to say "no, not a target, bad robot!" If they default to inactivity when jammed, that just means the enemy gets to pick them off as their leisure.
  • by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @11:17AM (#23105226) Journal
    Seriously, this is a good thing but I think some of the 'planned' uses are a bit optimistic. I'm more than willing to be surprised though.

    Anything with useful commercial life would need power like a forklift, and that is about as small as you can make a useful 'suit' for lifting that is self powered.

    Who knows, maybe granny will walk again one day soon. What we do know is that she won't get to compete in the olympics with her new suit!

    Won't somebody think of the illegal immigrants? This thing could put the day laborers out of work.

    No car analogy yet... forklift was as close as I could get :)
  • His photo is on some bloke's MySpace page, gang signs and all because he doesn't mind you throwing them up.

    I really need to get back into my street talk...
  • The designing engineers were primarily from Japan.
  • I wonder though (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @11:23AM (#23105362) Homepage Journal
    Why a suit, instead of an armed, semi-autonomous ROV? Why spend weight (and thus battery) protecting the squishy bits inside, when those bits can back home at an army base working eight hour shifts and going home to their families?

    I realize that troops have to carry an ungodly amount of gear, but by the time all the technical challenges of a truly battle-ready suit are met, surely putting a person in it would be a waste.

    • Re:I wonder though (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @11:33AM (#23105564) Homepage Journal
      Remote control will probably never be quite as good as having a human brain inside guiding it. The idea is to augment a soldier's physical abilities. As we know they already have battle robots that are operated remotely. This fills a different need. It's hard to judge how fast technology progresses or will progress, but I can conceive of Starship Trooper (the book, not that horrid movie) style gear in a hundred years or less.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hey! ( 33014 )

        Remote control will probably never be quite as good as having a human brain inside guiding it.

        Why not though? I'd like to see an airtight argument that practical powered armor is, net, more effective than an ROV. It's not that ROVs can, in the near future, replace soldiers, but in any case where you can imagine a suit like this being practical, surely an ROV would be more practical.

        After all, soldier carry a lot of stuff, basically as much as physically possible without being a net impairment. The suit

        • I don't really think that carrying supplies are a good application for a system like this. Things like heavy body armor and the ability to carry higher power weapons would be better uses. In which case you get a soldier that retains most of their mobility and dexterity, but is much more efficient in combat.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by hey! ( 33014 )
            Sure, but don't higher power weapons translate into more rounds fired or higher kinetic energy per round? That's weight. I'm also suggesting that you probably can't add heavier armor without removing other things the soldier carries, or having the soldier's mobility restricted by the system. If he needs to move faster, he'd need to remove the added protection. If the system failed, even partially, he'd have to choose between mobility and protection.

            Not that it wouldn't be cool to have power armored so
            • Sound a bit like you're describing a tank?
              • by hey! ( 33014 )
                Except there wouldn't be any people in it, so you wouldn't need the cost and weight of the armor fancy reactive armor that's supposed to protect the crew from things like EFPs. And because you don't need to house and protect the crew, you could make it any size or shape you want, starting from something the size of a radio controlled car all the way up an M1 tank, minus the crew space, and maybe with things like robotic arms to do minefield clearance and deploying pontoon bridges.
        • Why not? The potential for the control signal to be jammed, for one. I'm sure there are many other valid reasons.
          • by hey! ( 33014 )
            That's a good point, but in many ways we're already down that road, IIRC. We rely on communication and coordination as a force multiplier. While breaking the force down into multiple autonomous units is more practical when those units are people, it's probably more strategically costly to have that happen to people who try to fight on at cross purposes than to robots who execute some kind of return to base failsafe.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by dreamchaser ( 49529 )
              We rely on it as a force multiplier, yes. That's different than having your force totally immobilized. There will always be a place for individual soldiers in the field, at least until when and if we get 'real' AI. Even then, do you want non-human intelligences controlling weapon's platforms anymore than they already do (AEGIS for one). Given that fact it makes perfect sense to augment the individual soldier's physical abilities and level of protection.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by stubear ( 130454 )
          Soldiers, in fully protective battle armor, can make decisions in the field that ROV operators are unable to make due to their distance and disconnection to the situation. Was that airtight enough for you or were you planning on completely panning this concept, trusting AIs to make decisions better then humans?
          • by hey! ( 33014 )

            If the armor is "fully protective", why couldn't that soldier be in a VR simulator that can tilt and rotate and provide force feedback? And the delay created by a thousand kilometers distance is nothing compared to the delay created by the servos responding to his inputs.

            I'm just playing devil's advocate here. The kind of armor we're talking about is probably decades in the future. However ROVs are here today, albeit in crude form. I'm betting that ROV technology and strategies for using it will ma
            • by k_187 ( 61692 )
              you're missing the fact that combat ready power suits are AWESOME
              • by hey! ( 33014 )

                you're missing the fact that combat ready power suits are AWESOME

                Not as awesome as bikini-clad fem-bots. Let's get our technology priorities straight here.
    • Re:I wonder though (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DarenN ( 411219 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @11:34AM (#23105572) Homepage
      Because the meat inside gives it decision making capabilities that cannot be matched by AI either now or in the foreseeable future.

      Also because the human body is remarkably flexible in its movement and our brains are evolved to be quite good at this type of movement. An augmentation system doesn't have to necessarily PROTECT the wearer - that's what armour is for. It's about enhancing the natural strength of the soldier, who is still one of the most effective weapons in nearly all combat situations. The ability to lift heavier objects (weapons, for instance), and presumably to throw things like grenades further will be useful.

      I did find it amusing that the first uses are hoped to cause "fewer injuries when soldiers need to lift heavy weights or move objects around repeatedly". Not much of a combat objective!
      • by hey! ( 33014 )
        Does the meat inside suddenly lose its decision making capabilities if it is, let us say, a few hundred meters away?

        And so far as the human body's flexibility is concerned, that argument goes out the window once you encase that body in what is to all purposes a ROV, except that the operator is tucked into it like spam in a can. If the suit does not protect the wearer, I can only imagine it makes him less mobile and more vulnerable.
        • He wouldn't, but don't you think that he may act differently if he was in the can rather than controlling it remotely? I'd think that an operator would tend to look at a remotely-controlled suit as more expendable and might get into situations where the suit is more likely to be "killed" if they didn't have to worry about being injured in the process.

          Maybe a negative feedback system would work...

          • I'd think that an operator would tend to look at a remotely-controlled suit as more expendable and might get into situations where the suit is more likely to be "killed" if they didn't have to worry about being injured in the process.
            That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. It means the operator can afford to throw his "life" away when the situation requires it, like self-destructing to avoid enemy capture.
      • Because the meat inside gives it decision making capabilities that cannot be matched by AI either now or in the foreseeable future.

        I've developed a new AI that can achieve the necessary level of decision-making and mechanical control. Basically, I set up a lot of parallel processes that constantly sample and rewrite each other based on experience and focus on self preservation at all costs. I think that these giant mechanized killing machines would be a great way to test my new AI in the real world.

        What a recipe for success!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I can see a couple of reasons:
      • Balance and dexterity of humans is available to the machine.
      • Human decision making, feature recognition, senses and empathy are all available to the machine.
      • Resilience, if the machine is damaged, the squishy bits can crawl out and still fight for a brief extended time.
      Computing and robotics are not yet to the state that any of these can equate to the level of human ability.
      • Human decision making, feature recognition, senses and empathy are all available to the machine.

        What I'm talking about here is a human operated machine, so the ability to make tactical decisions isn't factor. Balance and dexterity aren't that crucial, because you aren't limited to the human form, and as far as weapons use is concern, taking the trigger out of the equation means on less interface.

        As far as resilience is concerned, true, but the robotic answer to that is replaceability.

        The one thing that i

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Itchyeyes ( 908311 )
      I have to disagree. While robotic units are gaining an increasingly important role in combat operations we are a very, very long way from completely eliminating the human element of the battlefield. So long as human beings are involved in warfare, protecting them will have a key role.

      Not to mention that while this kind of technology is being developed for the battlefield, it has uses far beyond combat. Suits like this could increase productivity and decrease injuries in any hundred of industries that requ
      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        Suits like this could increase productivity and decrease injuries in any hundred of industries that require workers to lift heavy loads.

        Well, that may be the case, but I doubt that a suit would be an optimal design in any case. Why not a forklift with a well designed robotic arm, or some similar design that carries more lifting power for less complicated and energy intensive mobility?
        • Because there are a lot of exercises that still require a lot more dexterity and range of motion than equipment like a forklift can offer.
          • by hey! ( 33014 )
            Either way you're running a robotic arm. There's nothing magical I can see about putting a person in a can attached to that arm, unless you can somehow manage to extend his proprioception into the arm. Doing this means that the arm must envelop the operator's arm, yet retain its approximate dimensions.

            It seems to me that it's a lot more practical to use a VR setup; you could even scale the system to allow workers to assemble bridge girders like Legos.

            As far as the fork lift is concerned, it doesn't have
            • All that comes to mind are giant remote-controlled versions of Gundam suits, being used for construction, lifting debris (search and rescue) ... oh, and tearing through cities on a rampage, while the operator sits in a VR room back home.

              There was some research I came across a while back saying that humans in a VR environment adapt quickly to using their limbs in abnormal ways, if the VR environment "coaches" them -- they could learn to move their elbows a special way to control the movement of a six-legged
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      As a matter of fact, that's part of the plan.

      If you watch this more detailed video from back in November: [] they even mention that long term they plan to enable the suits to be autonomous. Soldier steps in and it's an exoskeleton, soldier steps out, it's a humanoid robot.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by hey! ( 33014 )
        I have to admit, it's a pretty impressive demonstration.

        Note, though, that the suit is tethered to a practically endless supply of power. That is why I think these things will not be practical in combat in most of our lifetimes. Muscle power is limited, but incredibly efficient. A solider can carry enough energy on him to keep him at peak performance for days.

        Any practical untethered system would only be usable for a very short time, or it would be designed around the need to carry a massive power source.
    • Why a suit, instead of an armed, semi-autonomous ROV?

      Because we are a long, long way off from developing a robot as flexible and dependable as the human body in the field. Asimo can barely climb stairs, a soldier can bound up them, scramble over a pile of rubble, and perform all other manner of ad-hoc behaviors that no robot could duplicate and no remove control system is sophisticated enough to convey.

      Augmenting the human soldier will yield much greater dividends sooner than trying to go for an ROV.
      • by hey! ( 33014 )
        Well, I'll only say that historically, the undependability of the human body has been a major determining factor in warfare...
    • Instead of a suit why not a gas that augments the solder or an injection. Maybe call it a Super Solder Serum? I mean, I'm sure the unencumbered solder would be far more agile than one in a suit. In fact, maybe they could even blow them away with pumpkin bombs during a test flight just to prove that they're better and deserve the defense contract...
    • Why not make the suit the field transportation unit for the robot. I mean attach the thing to it, the soldier takes it on patrol and employs it when necessary. You can rig the suit with tons of sensors that can find weapons under clothing, perhaps sniff nitrates or other explosive traces when approaching a possible IED or road side bomb. The alarm goes off, the soldier pushes a button, the robot detached and investigates. He could perhaps transfer control to a remote location so the robot could participate
    • Because this defeats the three enemies of hollywood robotics []:

      Stairs: Human legs, brain, and inner ear balancing
      Oxymorons / Logical or Mathematical inconsistencies: Human brain to ignore logic
      Time Travel: Okay, so the suit can't time travel since it's inorganic, but the pilot can.

  • Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these! []
  • Popsci (Score:5, Informative)

    by howjan ( 629612 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @11:40AM (#23105686)
    There was an article in this month's Popular Science [] about suits like this. If this kind of thing trips your trigger that article is worth a read.
  • The big question for me is, can Stan Lee claim prior art against any attempt to patent this device?
    • I think Heinlein has dibs. This sounds more like the Mobile Infantry than it does Iron Man. Though I don't think they'll be deploying troops from orbit in suits like this anytime soon.
  • by trybywrench ( 584843 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @11:48AM (#23105814)
    this would go a long way in loading bombs or missiles on aircraft. I would imagine in a cramped environment it would be more agile then a forklift or whatever it is they use now. Also, it would be useful when doing stuff like changing a truck tire. Those things are heavy.
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @11:52AM (#23105884)
    The book, not the campy movie, introduces these power suits. [] (I'm guessing the movie drops this much in the same way Spiderman is always pulling off his mask- the suit hides the humanity of the characters.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lymond01 ( 314120 )
      Starship Troopers (the book) should be the main scifi reference to powered suits. Iron Man is fine, but Heinlein describes the idea very well: "You don't control the suit. You wear it, like putting on your shirt in the morning, you don't really notice its there. Except this suit makes a battalion of Sherman tanks look like cockroaches to a bazooka." (I...very badly...paraphrase.)

      Build a bigger, badder suit, armored head to toe, so it can carry the power supply as well.
      • Starship Troopers (the book) should be the main scifi reference to powered suits.

        Supplemented of course with Haldeman's The Forever War. Some interesting additions to the concept in there.
  • by TheHawke ( 237817 ) <rchapin.stx@rr@com> on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:15PM (#23106288)
    Here's that ages-old question: Where are you going to be able to safely and efficiently operate a powered suit without sinking up to your waist in muck, tipping over due to unstable or uneven terrain, and be able to lift a working payload at the same time.

    'Suits have this problem called weight distribution. Their footprints are about on par with a small car overloaded. When try to move loads on poor terrain, you'll wind up either getting dug out or being picked back up because the soil could not hold you up. Tracks that can handle twice their load can dance on that kind of terrain, even BobCats with tracks can handle soft sands that would try to swallow an average joes' foot.

    I can see powersuits working on prepared grounds, Asphalt, cement concrete, macadam with treated substrates, but not thrown into a active combat situation where they would have to slog through mud or soft soils.
  • I built one a couple years ago, useful around the house. Great for lifting heavy boxes, but if you try to pet a kitty, you crush it, so be careful.

    Here's a pic of me in it []

    My page [] has more info. Now, do they just write me a check? Or is there a form I need to fill out? Probably a form. They might want to replace some of the styrofoam, I'm guessing.
  • by Charcharodon ( 611187 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:58PM (#23107040)
    I hope the 2nd Amendment covers these things when they start being released commercially.

    The right to bare Robot arms shall not be infringed!

    • by halivar ( 535827 )
      Charcharadon, I'm writing in your name on my ballot this November. Clearly, civilian use of armed power suits will represent a crime deterrent, and this should be the single greatest campaign platform this year.

      I will, however, need "carry and conceal" permits for all the hidden orbital bombardment cannons.
  • Playing around with them is fun, except for the floating disembodied hand that keeps clicking you until you say something funny.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.