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Army Eyes Soldier Injury Prevention, Cognitive Benefits With Exoskeleton Suit

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The U.S. Army looks to optimize the physical and mental performance of soldiers through the development of an exoskeleton suit.

Scientists from the Army Research Laboratory have been testing the suit since 2014 at the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency‘s Warrior Web program, the Army said Friday.

The suit features pulleys and gears designed to mitigate risks of musculoskeletal injuries facing warfighters, the Army noted.

“We’ve been primarily focusing on the physical benefits of these types of suits, but we’re also interested in the cognitive benefits,” said ARL researcher Angela Boynton.

“We’re hoping that by reducing the physical burden, that [soldiers] also have the ability to put more energy into other types of tasks that involve cognitive or perceptual workload,” she added.

Warrior Web is nearing its end but researchers want to find potential collaborators that can build on the program’s achievements.

Maj. Christopher Orlowski, DARPA program manager for Warrior Web, said the exoskeleton suit could take “at least another five to ten years” to be ready for infantry soldiers’ use.

Officials from the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center; Maneuver Center of Excellence; Capabilities Integration Center and Military Operational Medicine Research Program met at ARL’s SPEAR facility in June for a soft demonstration of the exosuit and to discuss the future of Warrior Web.

Conor Walsh, head of a research team from Harvard’s Wyss Institute, said the meeting gave his team an opportunity to discuss their progress as DARPA’s Warrior Web program partner.

Walsh noted the latest exosuit prototype that was tested at ARL featured optimized functional apparel attachments, actuation systems and control systems designed to adapt to the wearer.

Henry Girolamo, Warrior Web program manager at NSRDEC, said researchers need additional funds and time to further develop a Warrior Web suit, which he believes could address a range of issues that soldiers currently face.

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