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Human Exoskeleton Makes Heavy Loads Possible

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is about to unveil a human exoskeleton that was developed to enable its user to carry heavier loads over longer distances.

The device is called the Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton, or BLEEX. Originally designed for foot soldiers to facilitate the transfer of heavy loads, it could also be used by medical personnel carrying wounded people from disaster areas, or fire fighters in hauling heavy equipment up multiple flights of stairs.

The user or “pilot” straps the exoskeleton’s legs to their own while supporting a large rucksack that contains the engine, control system and a space for the payload. Although the device itself weighs 50 kilograms (110lbs.)it does not burden the pilot because the machine’s power easily offsets its own weight. In addition to its own weight, it will carry and extra 32 kilograms(70.4lbs.) within the backpack. The pilot will experience a payload of about 2kilograms (4.4lbs.).

The load is stabilized by the control system, which maintains the center of gravity within the pilot’s footprint. Later this year a more compact engine that is twice as powerful will be utilized that should allow the pilot to carry loads of nearly 60 kilograms (132lbs.). As the weight exceeds the machine’s upper limit the pilot then takes the extra weight.

The entire control system is designed to ensure that the device moves in concert with the person wearing the exoskeleton. “The key element is that the pilot needs no joystick, key board or buttons to operate it,” says project leader Homayoon Kazerooni, leaving your hands free for other tasks. “You just push your leg and it moves,” he says.

The BLEEX device uses a small purpose built combustion engine necessary to drive its powerful hydraulics. On a full tank the system will run for about two hours. However, plans are in the works to use a quieter, cleaner type of engine that runs on hydrogen peroxide, which expands rapidly without combusting when it comes into contact with a catalyst.

The public will have a chance to see the system demonstrated at the DARPA Technical Symposium in Anaheim, California between March 9 and 11.

1) Graham-Rowe, Duncan. “Artificial Exoskeleton Takes the Strain.” Online posting. 04 March 2004

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