Aliens, HALO, Gears of War, (of course) BattleTech, Edge of Tomorrow, and a whole lot of other science fiction properties feature powered strength-enhancing suits in a utility roll before being used in combat. I believe the idea goes back to Robert Heinlein’s 1959 novel Starship Troopers, but it’s really only been in the last fifteen or so years that science and engineering think tanks have been actively (and seriously) experimenting with something useable for military, commercial and even medical applications.
I’ve mentioned TALOS and Warrior Web; which I believe are undergoing field trials at the time of this writing, as well as the Hybrid Assisted Limb medical exoskeleton that’s also flexing its bionic muscles. But it appears in this article from New Scientist that South Korea’s Daewoo corporation already has a suit in operation in an industrial role at their main shipbuilding and marine engineering facility at Okpo-dong. Visually and performance-wise it is highly reminiscent of the Raytheon corporation’s XOS Mark 2 suit that the Iron Man and Avengers actor Clark Gregg donned in this video.
Daewoo’s suit is a working prototype for a more robust version that could “lug around 100-kilogram hunks of metal as if they’re nothing” according to the lead engineer Gilwhoan Chu. So far the carbon fiber, aluminum and steel frame is rated only up to thirty pounds and has a battery life of only about three hours. Well, you’ve got to start somewhere. And when building fifty-five thousand ton container ships, even the small jobs that can’t be done by massive industrial robots still require a human with some heavier lift capability than we’re normally built for.
The Daewoo suit weighs in at a hair over sixty pounds, and can be fitted to anyone from 5’3″ to 6″ in height. Still a far cry from the iconic power loader from Aliens, but definitely a step or two in the right direction.
And that direction seems to be taking us to Panasonic’s robotics arm, Activelink. Unambiguously called the “Powered Suit“, this bulkier exoframe can lift up well over two-hundred pounds on a charge that lasts about five hours. It’s pretty slow at about five MPH, about like a leisurely walk. And the best part is, it’s being mass produced for private sales. The initial run of one thousand units is set to begin in 2015 and the suggested retail price will be under five thousand bucks a pop.
If I had the scratch- I’d take it.
Well bargained, and done.