Soldiers Could Soon Get Robotic Legs
It’s basically the lower half of Iron Man’s suit, minus rocket boosters and armor.
Machine gunners, mortarmen, and other soldiers that carry heavy equipment on the battlefield could soon get a little help from FORTIS. The FORTIS Knee Stress Release Device (K-SRD) boosts leg capacity, increasing the amount of weight a soldier can carry with his legs. The result is soldiers that are capable of carrying their loads much farther while suffering less fatigue.
Developed by Lockheed Martin, FORTIS consists of a powered exoskeleton wrapping around the wearer’s lower extremities. The system takes heavy loads and transfers the weight to the knees, where the exoskeleton provides extra support. Sensors on the FORTIS similar to those on your smartphone take the wearer’s speed, direction, and angle of movement and feed them to an onboard computer that drives actuators in the knees. When the system thinks the wearer needs a boost, it generates torque at the actuators to support the wearer’s load.
FORTIS is useful for kneeling squatting, lifting, or dragging, with heavy loads, reducing the amount of physical exertion to carry out tasks. It is particularly useful carrying out such activities in steep terrain, on staircases, and in subterranean areas. The system weighs 27 pounds, but Lockheed Martin says the load is distributed so that the wearer “barely notices the system weight.” A “tool arm” connected to the exoskeleton can take up to 36 pounds of weight, making it easier to carry weapons such as M240 machine guns.
One obvious byproduct of reducing a soldier’s load: less physical fatigue. Soldiers equipped with FORTIS would arrive at their objective alert and ready for action. That is, so long as the brass don’t see it as an excuse to load down soldiers with even more gear. FORTIS is built to military specifications and uses military-grade lithium batteries to provide power. While the system has obvious benefits, the trade-off is that sooner or later batteries run out. A broken or unpowered skeleton could leave soldiers high and dry on the battlefield.
Here’s an interview by Shephard Media at the ongoing Special Operations Forces Industry Conference 2017 in Tampa, Florida: