Humans aren't the swiftest creatures on Earth, and most of us are limited in the amount of weight that we can pick up and carry. These weaknesses can be fatal on the battlefield, and that's why the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is investing $50 million to develop an exoskeleton suit for ground troops. This wearable robotic system could give soldiers the ability to run faster, carry heavier weapons and leap over large obstacles.


Photo courtesy DARPA
Exoskeletons will give soldiers the ability to move faster while carrying more weight.

Basically, an exoskeleton is a wearable machine that gives a human enhanced abilities. Imagine a battalion of super soldiers that can lift hundreds of pounds as easily as lifting 10 pounds and can run twice their normal speed. The potential of non-military applications is also phenomenal. In 2000, DARPA requested proposals for human performance augmentation systems, and will soon be signing contracts to begin developing exoskeletons. The military agency said that the testing of this new technology is at least a decade away. It will be much longer before soldiers are donning these body amplification systems for battle.

These exoskeletal systems are expected to give soldiers amplified strength and speed, and will also have built-in computers to aid soldiers in navigating foreign territories. Questions still remain about how these machines will be powered and how they will respond to human motion. In this edition of How Stuff WILL Work, we will take a look at how humans will wear these machines and the challenges that researchers must overcome to make them practical for use on the battlefield and for commercial applications.