We're one step closer to the elite force of half-human half-robot super-soldiers that we've wanted since Robocop debuted in 1987 (minus questionable surgery and evil corporations). According to reports, Lockheed Martin – the security and aerospace company that has worked on projects with the military and NASA – has developed an exoskeletonthat will help prevent injuries and reduce the stress of heavy loads for soldiers... And one lucky Army group has already been selected to be the first to test it out.
Army Times reports that Lockheed Martin partnered with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center earlier this year to identify ways that the technology would work for soldiers. Unlike the full-body combat suit prototypes we've seen out of Russia, the ONYX suit looks like the braces Forrest Gump had to wear as a kid – only much cooler. The Army's 10th Mountain Division will have the honor of taking the new legs out for a spin later this year during the six-month "development effort" so that they calibrate both fit and flexibility for the kind of tasks that the soldiers need to complete.
In the second phase of testing (scheduled for next year) the ONYX exoskeleton will be upgraded with actuators that are faster and quieter; in the third phase, they will put this tech through the ringer to see if it's really suited for the field. "That's the hardest part of all, ruggedization," said Keith Maxwell, senior program engineer for Lockheed Martin's exoskeleton technologies division. He added that ensuring the exoskeleton is waterproof will be very important: it will need to be able to function after being worn for up to 15 minutes in three feet of water.
If everything works out, we could see soldiers wearing the robotic leg braces as soon as 2021.