Exoskeleton technologies are increasing as artificial intelligence brings new opportunities to the forefront. These technologies improve soldiers’ endurance, strength, and speed on the battlefield. One such technology is Lockheed Martin’s ONYX, a powered lower-body exoskeleton with dermoskeleton technology (rigid and flexible structures that conform to the body) licensed from B-TEMIA and tracking sensors. Its ability to increase mobility and dramatically reduce fatigue makes it an exciting new product in the defence market. By reducing the effort when walking and climbing, ONYX assists soldiers in going the extra mile while carrying mission-essential equipment.
ONYX’s tracking sensors feed back into an onboard computer that’s attached to the hip and report speed, direction, and angle of movement to drive the electro-mechanical actuators at the knees to assist the user. The computer is kitted with artificial intelligence-based software that predicts joint movement. The exoskeleton assists knee flexion and extension, helping the user to carry extra weight at more speed than they would have been able to accomplish on their own.
“The system’s on-board computer uses an artificial intelligence algorithm to read and interpret motion sensors placed in key locations through the exoskeleton,” describes Keith Maxwell, Lockheed Martin’s senior exoskeleton programme manager. “ONYX tracks how the leg moves, understands the motion and provides a boost, assisting the knee at just the right time. This reduces stress on the lower extremities, increases stamina and improves endurance.” ONYX is battery-powered and could have an eight-hour operating time with two batteries and up to 16 hours with four batteries.
FEATURES (Courtesy of Lockheed Martin):
Enhances strength and endurance to carry taxing loads over distance.
Enables better handling and support for heavy weapons.
Reduces metabolic cost of transport to improve endurance and reduce the need for rest breaks.
Increases ability to traverse stairs, inclines, and rough terrain, especially with loads.
Reduces stress on leg muscles.
Guides orthopaedic alignment to help evenly distribute weight and maintain skeletal system alignment to avoid overstress and pressure injuries.
ONYX is currently available in an advanced prototype configuration (TRL-6) for demonstration and testing purposes. Due to soldier feedback, ONYX is being upgraded with military-spec batteries to ruggedize and improve control box ergonomics and to incorporate faster actuators to generate more torque.
According to Lockheed Martin, the ONYX exoskeleton will be completed in three phases of testing with the army, starting in the final quarter of 2018. Soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in upstate New York will be the first to put the ONYX to the test. “The first phase will include a six-month development effort in which researchers work on the quality of life portions of making the knee and hip-focused device fit comfortably and correctly to the soldier’s body,” said Maxwell. The second phase will start in early 2019 with an objective of adding faster and quieter actuators to the exoskeleton. The final phase will determine whether or not the technology is field ready. According to Maxwell, Lockheed Martin estimates the device entering the field by 2021.
Lockheed Martin’s ONYX is just one of the many new developments in the field of exoskeleton technologies. The U.S. Army Research Laboratory published footage on May 29th, showing their Third Arm being utilized in training. The Third Arm is a lightweight device weighing less than 2kgs and helps soldiers to not only support their weapons, but improve shooting accuracy on the battlefield.The development of exoskeleton technologies opens up many possibilities in enhancing capabilities and assisting soldiers on the battlefield.
Written by Elné Potgieter (Intern) for Satovarac Consulting
Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin