In the immortal words of Black Sabbath, “I am Iron Man!” You might just be a real life Iron Man someday; for the past few years the United States military and researchers around the world have been developing robotic exoskeletons that mirror the abilities of the iconic super hero. While we are nowhere near close to the technology in Tony Stark’s gleaming metal body suit that can fly and shoot missiles, researchers are creating exoskeletons with practical applications. While you won’t be zooming past fighter jets while blasting AC/DC, the suits will be able to help soldiers lift objects, health care workers carry patients, and aid disaster response teams. Here are a few awesome potential “Iron Man”-like exoskeletons that may one day help you fight The Mandarin… or at least lift a really heavy burrito to your big old mouth.
HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier)
While this exoskeleton may help soldiers become more like Iron Man, this one is named after The Hulk! (OK, actually it’s HULC: Human Universal Load Carrier) Funded by the US Army, Lockheed Martin created this lower body exoskeleton for soldiers who need to carry large packs or loads in the field; the current model can last up to eight hours on one charge and future editions may last up to 96 hours. By taking weight off a user’s knees and joints, the HULC allows soldiers to carry 200 pounds without any pressure!
Raytheon XOS 2
Another exoskeleton developed by the US military, Raytheon’s XOS 2 is a wearable suit that significantly increases the endurance and strength of the soldier. This highly advanced suit was funded by DARPA under the science fiction B movie sounding “Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation” program, which will in no way lead to super soldiers going rogue. While allowing the wearer to carry heavy loads and even break three inches of wood with one punch, this exoskeleton is powered by a chord that must be plugged into a generator, which is not practical in the field. No one wants to see Iron Man simply get unplugged in the middle of an epic fight.
Cyberdyne’s HAL 5
Duh-duh, dun, dun dundt. Duh-duh, dun, dun dundt. Cyberdyne is creating robotic suits! If this gives you an uneasy feeling, that’s because “Cyberdyne” was the name of the company in The Terminator that created Skynet, leading to Judgment Day. Never fear, though. This Cyberdine is actually trying to help humanity through it’s robotic exo suit named “HAL 5” (another evil computer reference!). While they might not be great at naming things (depending how you look at it), they are great at creating advanced exoskeletons. Worn by the user, the HAL 5 (or Hybrid Asstive Limb) is capable of detecting bio signals sent from the brain to muscles in the arms and legs, thus using its power to help aid in that movement. With a battery life of two hours and forty minutes, HAL is considered the first “cyborg” type robot controlled by this system. Cyberdine is currently renting out the HAL 5 and hopes to mass produce the suits for around $14,000.
Active Link’s Power Loader
Active Link’s Power Loader is less like Iron Man and more like the device Ripley uses in Aliens; the user gets into and “pilots” it instead of wearing it. The Power Loader uses sensors in the arms and legs to match the intent of the user and intensify their strength with motors carrying up to 66 pounds. While the current Power Loader is compact, Active Link is considering a large version that will be much more suited for battling chest bursting aliens.
“Get away from her you bitch!”
Ekso Bionics eLEGS
While other exoskeleton development has focused on military applications, Ekso Bionics eLEGS were created to help paraplegics and rehabilitate patients to walk again. These lower body robotic legs are helping the paralyzed stand on their own again. With the aid of crutches, these patients can walk up to two miles per hour on a battery that has a six hour charge. Iron Man would approve.
If you had a real life “Iron Man” exoskeleton, what would you use it for?
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