Most of us are hoping that, through some kind of nuclear accident or other, we’ll get super powers. It’s just a matter of time, right? If you could pick what power would you take? Super strength is the superpower that everybody wants most. So the first thing you’ll want to do in your career as a superhero is try to lift something huge and heavy. Well, I have good news for you some of these dreams can be realized by the exoskeleton – a device that can increase a person’s muscular strength due to an external frame.

Like many other things in our lives, exoskeletons gradually step over the boundary that separates the ambitious dreams from our everyday life. Being originally just ideas, concepts, myths and legends of science fiction, today new versions of exoskeletons appear almost every week.

Let’s have a quick look at exoskeleton’s history. The earliest exoskeleton-like device was invented by Russian engineer Nicholas Yagn. According to U.S. Patents 420 179(A) Nicholas Yagn In his patent application wrote “Be it known that I, NICHOLAS YAGN, a subject of the Russian Emperor, residing at St. Petersburg, Russia, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Apparatus for Facilitating Walking, Running, and Jumping”. That Apparatus was patented half a year later in January 28, 1890.

But according to defense technical information center the first TRUE exoskeleton was co-developed by General Electric and United States military in the 1960’s and it was named Hardiman. It made lifting 25 pounds feel like lifting only 1 pound. Wow, it sounds great, but unfortunately it was impractical due to its 1500 pound weight. A lot of experiments and researches were made to make a better light-weight exoskeleton. Nowadays a robotic suit that was once real in a comic book, now gives superhuman power to the wearer and is available for use in military field, medical field and physical working field.

2-load-carrierLet me share with you how this technology can be a real benefit to the military. Imagine that you are a soldier and you have to operate high in the Afghanistan Mountains. You also were ordered to take 220 pounds up in that level. Now think how exhausted you would be once you got there. But exoskeleton provides you with the ability to carry that weight same distance but to have energy left to execute the mission. The good example of that exoskeleton is TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit). According to the article “Welcome to TALOS, Where Tony Stark Meets G.I. Joe.” by  Daniel Nadler, The TALOS is armored exoskeleton, which not only protects the soldier from being hit by bullets and fragments, but also allows him to easily and freely move around the battlefield with equipment weighing up to 100 pounds. It also has the ability to monitor vitals and stop bleeding in case of receiving the wound and includes “a wearable computer, similar to Google Glass, to help soldiers aim their weapons”.

While some organizations are working on developing exoskeletons for military purposes, to create the perfect soldier for killing enemies, others are working on developing suits that allow the paraplegic and injured people to lead the fulfilling life. Thus the HAL exoskeleton designed specifically for the rehabilitation of people with problems of the musculoskeletal system. Anneli Nilsson in her article ” Gait Training Early After Stroke with a New Exoskeleton” says that exoskeleton obeys bio-electrical signals emanating from the human brain as the muscles in the human body. This exoskeleton allows such people to return to normal active life. And those who only recently could not get up from their wheelchairs, are now able to at least walk again and even climb stairs. Hybrid Assistive Limb exoskeleton also designed for the elderly, for whom even a trip to the grocery store has become a complex and sometimes impossible process.

The most significant example of exoskeleton is the exoskeleton that is available for use in physical working field. According to Neil Bowdler, the journalist of BBC News, “Engineers in Italy have developed a wearable robot which can enable users to lift up to 110 pounds in each extended hand. It could be developed to work in factories or to clear debris and rescue survivors in earthquake zones”. Another suit that still doesn’t have name was developed in Japan to post-accident clean-up at Fukushima. According to the article “Powered Exoskeleton to Help Cleanup Fukushima Post Meltdown” this suit increases the force that protects against radioactive dust and saves from overheating. The most interesting thing in that Suit – is that it really looks like the suit of the Iron Man.

To sum up, we have seen that exoskeleton can increase the person’s strength and allow him to lift heavy-weight things. It can be used in military, medical and physical working fields.  Nowadays technologies that seemed unimaginable to us amaze us  and allow us to do the things we could previously only dream of. Next time when you will be watching movies such as Iron Man, Star Wars, Matrix, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,  Spy Kids: All the Time in the World and Aliens remember that robotic suits are no longer science fiction. The unbelievable future for exoskeletons have already come. And remember that the next Iron man is YOU!

Author: Ekaterina Nikitina

Works Cited

Bowdler, Neil “Body Suit Can Lift 50kg in Each Hand”. BBC News,  03 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 Jan. 2015.

“First Patient Takes ReWalk Robotic Exoskeleton Home”. CBS News, 07 July 2014. Web. 10 Jan. 2015.

“HAL Powered Exoskeleton to Help Cleanup Fukushima Post Meltdown”. MedGadget, 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 10 Jan. 2015.

Nadler, Daniel. “Welcome to TALOS, Where Tony Stark Meets G.I. Joe.” Institutional Investor (2014). ProQuest. Web. 11 Jan. 2015.

Nilsson, Anneli, et al. “Gait Training Early After Stroke with a New Exoskeleton – the Hybrid Assistive Limb: A Study of Safety and Feasibility.” Journal of Neuroengineering and Rehabilitation 11 (2014): 92. ProQuest. Web. 11 Jan. 2015.