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Army Tests Prototypes to Help Soldiers March Longer, Faster

Army Spc. Rafael Boza tests the prototype smart suit on a three-mile course  at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

The Army tested a prototype of soft suit designed by Harvard University engineers to aid soldiers' muscles on long marches and patrols allowing them to move quicker and for longer distances without getting injured, according to an Army release.

Engineers with Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have worked with the Army and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to design a smart suit that uses a "series of webbing straps containing a microprocessor and a network of strain sensors."

"The suit mimics the action of leg muscles and tendons so a soldier's muscles expend less energy," Ignacio Galiana, a robotics engineer working on the project, said in the Army's release.

Soldiers wearing suit prototypes along with battle gear tested the suit at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Researchers collected data as the soldiers walked on treadmills and a three-mile course on paved roads and rough terrain.

Thus far, the Army Research Laboratory has tested nine prototypes over the past 21 weeks brought to them by DARPA officials overseeing the Warrior Web program.

"We get things like stride length and stride frequency, and the time that their feet are in contact with the ground," said Angela Boynton, a mechanical engineer with Army Research Laboratory's Human Research and Engineering Directorate. "We are also capturing energy expenditure data so we know how many calories they're burning while they're walking on the treadmill with the different conditions. We're also looking at muscle activity, specifically the leg muscles, to look at the amount of muscle work that they're doing while they're performing that task."

DARPA and Army officials said the military is not too far away from fielding a suit that could help soldiers.

"They've addressed a lot of the human factors issues in terms of comfort and fit that we identified in the first round of evaluations, and a lot of the system functionality has been much more streamlined and it's starting to look like a field-ready device, rather than a prototype," Boynton said.

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Army researchers evaluate a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Warrior Web prototype at the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research facility, at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Army researchers evaluate a DARPA Warrior Web prototype at the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research facility, at Aberdeen Proving Ground. (Army photo)

Army researchers evaluate a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Warrior Web prototype at the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research facility, at Aberdeen Proving Ground. (Army photo) Army researchers evaluate a DARPA Warrior Web prototype at the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research facility, at Aberdeen Proving Ground. (Army photo)

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