Prototype exoskeletons are already making people stronger -- strap this Berkeley contraption on, and a backbreaking load suddenly feels about as heavy as a couple of copies of the Sunday paper.But as anyone who's ever read Iron Man knows, exoskeletons are supposed to do more that make you strong. They're supposed to protect you from bad guys, too.Fortunately, the folks from New Ipswich, NH's Warwick Mills haven't forgotten that key lesson. The company recently received a contract from the Navy to put together "Exoskeleton Blast Protection for IEDs."Warwick has already provided the "protective crash bag material used to land NASA's Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers." Now it wants to use that expertise, to "create a lightweight, flexible, multi-layered system that will effectively mitigate the powerful forces of tension and compression that can cause traumatic limb separation caused by IED blast."
Most existing body armor systems use a hard plate to protect against ballistic threats to the torso, and some also contain a softer fabric system to provide protection from fragmentation, but there is nothing available to today's warfighters that addresses issues of limb separation. This lack of protection leaves the wearer's extremities vulnerable to severe, often fatal, injuries caused by blast overpressure.Our research efforts will seek to achieve an optimal material combination that can absorb and dissipate energy from overpressure and can also withstand fragmentation of 0.100-1.2g.Only after they've got the energy absorbtion thing worked out, Warwick promises, will they move on to installing stuff like repulsor rays and energy shields.