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Iron Man-like Exoskeleton Nears Production 220

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the suit-up dept.
fangmcgee writes "By now, with films like Iron Man, its sequel, and Avatar, Hollywood has made us thoroughly familiar with the idea of the robotic exoskeleton. Less well known, however, is that researchers are actually building robotic exoskeletons like the ones envisioned by Hollywood and the comic book visionaries from whom Hollywood pilfers its most lucrative ideas. Among the developers of real-life Iron Man suits (of which there are many, the world over) is a group called Raytheon Sarcos. And as IEEE Spectrum reports in this month's issue, its impressive second-generation exoskeleton robotics suit, dubbed the XOS 2, is nearing production."
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Iron Man-like Exoskeleton Nears Production

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  • Jack Daniels not included.
  • Not Skynet enough (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Toe, The (545098) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:17PM (#37057942)

    Seems like a major purpose of these is to have soldiers wear an exoskeleton to make them more formidable both offensively and defensively.

    But can't you just skip the middleman (literally) and just have good ol' fashion killbots?

    I mean, what's the point of having actual people involved in a process so minor as, well, killing people?

    • Re:Not Skynet enough (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Brandano (1192819) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:21PM (#37058006)
      Well, you wouldn't want to risk having the robots getting all ethical on you all of a sudden. Humans are ethically more malleable. Also, once your adversary reaches the same technological level the end result is having robots fight other robots. I think that sort of thing makes you go blind or something.
      • by Toe, The (545098) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:31PM (#37058194)

        Also, once your adversary reaches the same technological level the end result is having robots fight other robots.

        Well, it's all very clean and neat then:

        1. Two armies of robots fight it out in a huge but very confined conflagration.

        2. Eventually, one side defeats the other and eradicates all their robots.

        3. Whatever victorious robots remain then, of course, go ahead and exterminate the entire enemy civilian population.

        See how neat and clean that is? Warfare will be much more decisive and the following peace will certainly be much longer-lasting.

        • Not a problem if the civilians are prepared.

          Needed:
          1. Area for robots to go through that is on fire. To heat the robots up. This does not stop them but readies for step 2
          2. EMP directed at the robots. Hardened robots still go through.
          3. A nice liquid O2 or liquid nitrogen bath. Makes the robots hard and brittle.
          4. Wreaking ball. This cracks them up.

          Burning the robots should melt some parts of them. That should stop many of them. Short circuited robots do less if anything. Fire and the EMP should be used to

        • Re:Not Skynet enough (Score:4, Interesting)

          by idontgno (624372) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:59PM (#37058714) Journal

          "A Short History of World War LXXVIII" by Roy Prosterman: Wars among nations are simple deathmatches between unmanned robotic war machines fought on the moon, broadcast world-wide. The combatant whose warbot is the last one standing is the party (nation, coalition, etc) that wins. Outcomes are binding; the treaty empowering this is enforced by a neutral standing army capable of quickly defeating any nation that defies this and charged with personally (and capitally) punishing the leadership of any party that violates the treaty.

          An amusing and improbable little short story. I always wondered what would happen if you declared war on the supra-national organization enforcing the treaty.

          • An amusing and improbable little short story. I always wondered what would happen if you declared war on the supra-national organization enforcing the treaty.

            You would lose.

          • by ByOhTek (1181381)

            I'm more concerned with what is keeping them from simply controlling the world outright.

            • by idontgno (624372)

              Acknowledging that I read that story 25 years ago, I'll admit I didn't see the point of my original question and the logical conclusion you arrive at: The only real power in that world was the UN-analogue that enforced the treaty. The rest of it was, to not quite coin a phrase, "sovereignty theater".

              What can I say? I was a teenager. I hadn't realized yet to look for the real state of things behind the visible ones.

              • The agency enforcing the treaty would have to have absolute destructive power at its hands, though - "settle your petty little conflicts our way or get your 'sovereign' territory nuked into a glass parking lot". But how would that kind of power be consolidated into a single agency without everyone else getting into the arms race for MAD during the consolidation phase? The only slightly probable way I can imagine right now is that they would have to be instated after a world war which caused devastation on a
        • by Solandri (704621)
          You could make it even simpler, and have wars decided by a huge LAN party. Then losers would then have to report to disintegration chambers to simulate casualties.
        • by AJH16 (940784)

          Why not just make it a simulation and have the civilian casualties report to nice, clean incineration chambers? (For those not familiar, this is the plot of an episode of Star Trek.)

      • Re:Not Skynet enough (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ArhcAngel (247594) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:46PM (#37058480)
        I think you are looking for a Star Trek reference like Star Trek episode "A Taste of Armageddon" [wikipedia.org] where the captain meets a civilization that dispenses with the nasty bits of war and plays RISK [hasbro.com] on a global scale. Of course anybody in the affected quadrant is "humanely" euthanized.

        Or perhaps you were looking for a more generic reference of the idea like The Forever War? [tvtropes.org]
      • You can command a robot to do something, and it will respond. If you tell a human to do something, it might respond or it might do something completely different.
        • If you tell a human to do something, it might respond or it might do something completely different.

          This could happen with a robot, in a literal genie sort of way; computers have a habit of doing what you tell them, not necessarily what you want them to do.

        • by Zoxed (676559)

          So we can be happy that Stanislav Petrov was not a robot ? !!

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      Seems like a major purpose of these is to have soldiers wear an exoskeleton to make them more formidable both offensively and defensively.

      Actually, the main idea right now is for rear echelon troops or soldiers stationed in FOBs to move around materiel/supplies/other heavy stuff while in base, to avoid injuries. Eventually, they'd like to get the weight/power supply small enough to allow troops to wear assistive devices while on patrol. A 2-3 day patrol in mountains almost 2 miles above sea level is bad enough. It's a lot worse when you have to hump 100+lbs of gear at that altitude also.

      • Exactly. The Caterpillar lloaders from 'Aliens' is way more likely (and practical) than 'Iron Man' or (book) 'Starship Troopers'.
        • by Joce640k (829181)

          Came here to say this: How come we haven't built one of those loaders yet? All the tech for that is definitely available...

          • by Isaac-1 (233099)

            Just look up forklift stunts on youtube and I think you may answer your own question

        • by Mr_Huber (160160)

          Yep. Plus, the caterpillar loaders can be near external power, meaning the wearer doesn't have to worry about the added weight imposed by the power source. A 2-3 day patrol is going to need some pretty serious power storage and generation. These systems are great for hauling 100 lbs worth of equipment, but how good are they at 100 lbs of equipment plus that in generators and fuel?

          Remember, the breakthrough that made Iron Man possible even in the movie was not a breakthrough in robotics, armor or servomot

          • by rubycodez (864176)
            that really is the funny thing about phasers, iron man, light sabers, the hand held railguns of "eraser".....if we had power sources small enough to power things like that, a "Dell laptop battery malfunction" would be like a nuclear bomb. you think a burned penis from a laptop is bad, how would you like a crater in the floor centered on your crotch?
    • by Eevee (535658)

      But can't you just skip the middleman (literally) and just have good ol' fashion killbots?

      Money. It's the cost of the Lotus Notes licenses that's preventing us from deploying killbots.

      • Money. It's the cost of the Lotus Notes licenses that's preventing us from deploying killbots.

        Couldn't they just grab a copy of MySQL, Eudora and Edlin and call it a day?

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          Money. It's the cost of the Lotus Notes licenses that's preventing us from deploying killbots.

          Couldn't they just grab a copy of MySQL, Eudora and Edlin and call it a day?

          Definitely not, that would be exceeding the specifications.

    • by CommieLib (468883) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:32PM (#37058212) Homepage
      I don't think that's going to be the (direct) purpose of these...not for moral or ethical considerations, but a simple engineering one - there's no way the power is going to last long enough for a patrol.

      These would be absolutely terrific for combat loading [wikipedia.org], though, and don't underestimate how important that is. Imagine an aircraft comes in for resupply, a cohort of engineers in these suits...you could reload and refuel MUCH faster. The force efficacy of an asset is a function of that time.

      So you optimize the suit to work for maybe forty five minutes, and then have hot swappable batteries.
      • by Mr_Huber (160160)

        In those circumstances, cables, protocols and cable tenders would even work. Imagine you're in the suit, you are restricted to this area around the airframe, your cable is on an automatic spool and you do a set series of movements worked out ahead of time to minimize crossing your own path. Cables may be a pain, but that means your lifting capacity is fully devoted to ordinance and fuel, rather than ordinance, fuel and your batteries.

    • even given the problems in "programming" an actual human brain in the suit/bot is our best bet for getting the job done (plus humans can redirect according to "in theature" situations).

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:55PM (#37058640) Journal
      For the same reason drones have not replaced the manned air force. There is often a lot of EM noise on a battefield, and some of it is quite intentional. You therefore need your soldiers - human or robotic - to be autonomous. Real combat isn't like Red Alert. The general is not clicking on individual soldiers and telling them where to walk, he's telling a captain to secure a specific objective, that captain is giving orders to squads, and NCOs are making the realtime tactical decisions. Programming that level of autonomy into a robot is really hard. It needs to be able to understand high-level objectives, like secure an area, protect civilians in another, and so on. For now, at least, it's a lot easier to put a human on the ground. Putting fewer humans on the ground is a good idea though, because people back home complain if they don't come back.
    • I'm not done with my hookers and blackjack yet!
    • by blair1q (305137)

      Killbot gets shot: replace with another $100-million killbot.

      Man in exoskeleton gets shot: replace with another $11k/year man.

      Don't think they don't do that kind of math at the Pentagon. It's why it's there.

  • He did a 200 lb. pulldown and lifted two 35 lb. dumbbells. I can do that with no suit. It would have been cool if he lifted something really heavy.
    • by cobrausn (1915176)
      Yeah, but he will do that for hours without tiring or injuring himself. You won't. That's the real advantage of the suit.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Lets see you do that 1000 times in a row... every day.

      • That's my point. I understand that the suit is stronger than a person, but the why not show it doing something a person can't do in the demo?
  • by jameskojiro (705701) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:22PM (#37058016) Journal

    We will need this if we want to fight off the super intelligent apes.

  • by Sebastopol (189276) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:27PM (#37058112) Homepage

    I like how the opening of the video starts with a flashing TTY-like cursor, and then scans across the screen, 1,200 baud style, but uses ... ....a serif proportional font????

    • by cobrausn (1915176)
      See Sig. Some amount smaller than the total for DoD.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Got a source for that sig?
        The numbers seem a bit off, so I am asking. Looks like you left off some wars or something.

        • by cobrausn (1915176)
          wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

          Basically summed up Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Other Mandatory Programs (this includes such things as unemployment, food stamps, military disability, etc...) for Entitlements. The rest are pretty straightforward. Didn't even touch other discretionary spending (105 billion), which I'm sure actually also probably includes some defense spending, and Department of State (51.7 billion), which pays for mercenaries. Wars are part of the DoD budget, they've just been going on a long time
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Why do you consider it wasted? Less injury, and fewer personal to do the same work. Sounds like a saving to me.
      But, hey if its taxes it's automatically a waste, isn't it? dumb ass.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      None, this is a tremendously useful technology that will revolutionize at least two different industries when they nail it.

      The better question is why one would shill for the Tea Party without being paid for the damage to ones reputation.

    • Yeah, because giving someone the ability to life hundreds of pounds, thousands of times a day has zero applications in the nonmilitary world. A certainly, the concept couldn't be modified to help disabled people live fuller lives.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Wasted?

      I want one of those things so bad I can smell it.

      I wonder if they'll bundle it with a minigun...

  • That exoskeleton is way too vulnerable. On the other hand, think of what Ripley used in Aliens. *That* would be a great use of this: try picking up a pallet in your bare hands....

                    mark

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Yeah "We got synthetic humans, but if you want to move heavy stuff, you got to operate it your self."

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Right now yes, but first you get the basic technology down, then you work on hardening it. What you're suggesting would be like trying to build predator drones without first having figured out how to build toy airplanes.

  • by geogob (569250) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:32PM (#37058220)

    The power supply seems more critical part... as it clearly can't be 'on board' with current technology, having a fixed power (electrical and/or hydraulic) source or a large generator on a truck nearby connected with an umbilical isn't very attractive for many application. Maybe a smaller, mobile (on track or wheels), power source that follows the suit might be interesting for many combat or civilian operations (disaster SAR comes to mind).

    • by cjcela (1539859)
      Why can't they affix a gas-powered electrical generator as a backpack to the thing? you know, with an engine like the ones in the backpack leaf blowers, but larger...
      • Likely because the amount of fuel one would need to carry to do so would make it impractical or hinder it to the point of making erasing any benefit it has over standard methods.
        • Likely because the amount of fuel one would need to carry to do so would make it impractical or hinder it to the point of erasing any benefit it has over standard methods.

          Fixed.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        That would need you need lots of fuel. It would also be loud, have a dangerous fuel and be totally useless in many possible applications.

      • by geogob (569250)

        The power output of such a motor is maybe a few hundred Watts... add to this loss in electrical conversion and hydraulic conversion, you won't do much with the suit.

        My gut feeling tells me you need nominally a few kilowatts for that thing. It may be possible and give enough autonomy (eg. fuel) to be practical in a few specific applications, but the mass of the power backpack my destabilize the suit too much. Keeping the center of gravity in a comfortable position will be hard and increase the weight of the

      • That was my thought too.

        But I imagine a gas-powered engine would burn through a tank really quick. Plus there's the whole safety issue: said gas-tank would have to be big, and god forbid anything happen while you have a firebomb strapped to your back. At least cars are able to enclose that stuff and put firewalls between the engine and the passenger

        If you went with the "huge backpack of Li-Ion battery cells" route then you have other problems. Batteries are fsking heavy. A huge backpack of those would

  • What was the robotic exoskeleton in Avatar? Did they already make a sequel? Did I miss something?

    You mean those glorified loaders with guns? Pfft. I suppose, but as exoskeleton-ish as an Apache helicopter is. Ripley had the real deal, if only she had time to strap a flamethrower onto it. And while we're at it, Matrix '3' had those.

  • Not to knock on how cool this thing is, but the article and Raytheon's previous press releases have been a little vague on what the power supply for this thing is. The actuators are high pressure hydraulics, meaning there must be a hefty compressor hanging around somewhere. How is it powered? In some of the videos you can see a pretty thick (5-10 cm dia) umbilical coming from the suit. Some of that is surely for telemetry, but I'm guessing a decent amount is power, either electrical or from a compressor
    • by llZENll (545605)

      In the video he explains they are now at 50% power usage of xo1, and hope to get to 20% of its usage in order to be able have onboard power, my guess is the thing uses so much power currently its not feasible, and even at 20% power usage of the 1st model its probably only powered via onboard sources for a very short time, less than an hour. Once you get onboard power it will weigh significantly more. Even if you have to use a tether it may be useful when loading a lot of very heavy individual things that

      • by blair1q (305137)

        loading a lot of very heavy individual things that require dexterity, but it seems like such a specific application

        That's not "specific", it's about as vague as it gets. If you don't have to design for particular tool sets, and can make 100-lb things as generically manipulable as 1-lb things, you've saved enormously from concept to EOL. It could change the way all sorts of things look.

  • This would be great for digging survivors out of rubble in the wake of an earthquake or other disaster, being able to clamber up a heap of rubble and lift a 700 lb. block of concrete off of someone would be a real life saver.
  • I guess the question of lifting heavy things has now been pretty much answered. But I'm thinking of applications that are not so, "Cumbersome?" Consider a Use Case of a person that is recovering from an operation, or accident and needs to go to the bathroom? or to the store? I'm thinking that the ability to just get up, and move down the hall would be very useful. And the power requirements would be on a lower scale.
  • To bite my shiny metal ass.

    Including my mom. From my basement bedroom.
  • I sure as hell wouldn't want it to crap out if I was loading a sidewinder missile onto a plane. Ignoring the very remote possibility of an explosion, the sudden appearance of hundreds of pounds in my hands is sure to cause some rather nasty injuries...
  • Now a personal area network, Ethernet has come a long way. I remember when the cables and transceivers would have weighed as much as the suit.
  • Now THAT would be truly a chick magnet!
  • It's odd that of the movies mentioned, none was the most obviously appropriate. The prototype demonstrated is much more similar to the power loaders in Aliens than anything in the Iron Man and Avatar movies.

  • Looks awesome, but it seems like it is only a matter of time before something fails on the communication end of things and the suit rips an arm or leg off or beats the operator senseless. I'll be watching for the youtube video.

    That said, I plan to live to a very VERY old age and wear one of these to help me get around. They didn't mention the elderly as a possible target market, but I can see it.

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