Future soldiers may be wearing ‘Iron Man’ suits
A lunchtime crowd is gathering beside the parking lot at Raytheon Sarcos, the defense contractor, on a recent day in Salt Lake City. White-collar workers from nearby office parks stand with their yogurt cups and sandwiches, watching with quiet awe as a man in a metal suit — sort of half-man, half-robot — performs superhuman feats of strength.
This may be the closest these people will get to a real-life “Iron Man,” the character from the comic books and hit movies.
Inside a prosthetic shell of metal and hydraulics, Raytheon test engineer Rex Jameson is putting an XOS-2 exoskeleton through its paces.
As the crowd watches, Jameson uses his robot hydraulic arm to shadowbox, break three inches of pine boards and toss around 72-pound ammunition cases like a bored contestant on the “World’s Strongest Man.”
The suit moves as he moves and amplifies his strength 17-fold. It doesn’t fly though.
“You don’t have this immense feeling of strength,” Jameson says. “It’s just when you go to do something that you couldn’t do without it, then that’s when you notice it.”
Jameson is part of a team designing in real life what comic books and Hollywood have promised for years: bringing an “Iron Man”-like suit to the battlefield.
Raytheon is seeking to develop the suits to help the U.S. military carry supplies, and claims that one operator in an exoskeleton suit can do the work of two to three soldiers. If all goes as planned, the company hopes to see “Iron Man” suits deployed in the field by 2015.
“The logistics personnel in the military typically move 16,000 pounds a day, which is an awful lot of load,” said Fraser Smith, vice president of operations for Raytheon Sarcos. The XOS-2 suit can be used in tight spaces where a forklift cannot.
And with the extra of strength the robot gives the operator, “that means you exert one pound, and it exerts 17. That’s a major amplification of strength and that’s all load the person doesn’t have to carry themselves,” Smith said.