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Army to Evaluate HULC Robotic Load Bearing Exoskeleton

by Greg on July 16, 2010

The Army has given Lockheed Martin $1.1 million (which, let’s admit, is peanuts) to test its “next generation HULC advanced robotic exoskeleton”; basically a really, really expensive load-bearing, wearable harness. The idea is that HULC transfers a trooper’s heavy load from the legs and back to the exoskeleton which then provides a power assist up inclines. As the LockMart press release says:

“HULC is designed to transfer the weight from heavy loads to the ground through the robotic legs of the lower-body exoskeleton, taking the weight off of the operator. An advanced onboard micro-computer ensures the exoskeleton moves in concert with the operator. HULC is an un-tethered, battery powered, hydraulic-actuated anthropomorphic exoskeleton capable of performing deep squats, crawls and upper-body lifting with minimal human exertion.”

I want to see somebody develop that wicked Power Loader exoskeleton Sigourney Weaver climbs in to do battle with the alien queen in Aliens; perhaps the HULC is a step in the right direction. “Why don’t you put her in charge!”

– Greg Grant

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Chops July 16, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Sounds like a good concept except for the cost and it looks a bit bulky and uncomfortable.

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Riceball July 16, 2010 at 2:28 pm

But all that can change over time, you have remember that this tech is still in its infancy and like all tech it will eventually get smaller and cheaper as time goes on. My real concern is if something like the HULC does get adopted how long would it be before any advantage it offers is negated by the brass deciding that now they have this increased capability how much more crap can the grunts now carry? I'm just afraid that the grunts wearing the HULC will eventually be burdened with so much ammo, armor, and misc. crap that they pinned to the ground if the HULC were to break down in the field on patrol or worse yet, in the middle of combat.

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Chops July 16, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Another concern would be the power supply–I can't imagine that thing could do 8hrs in the field much less a LRRP.

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Will July 16, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Absolutely right, the biggest problem is power supply. Portable fuel cells might get you there someday. In the short term, imagine the possibilities for special situations. A squad – or a platoon – where every man is armed with an M240 & wears max body armor.

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Sev July 16, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Remember, more armor means more power consumption and thus, less operating time. I think it will take more advancement in energy technology before a fully armored suit could be constructed. But I guess that's why the Army ROTC scholarship is awarded to science and engineering majors.

Locarno July 19, 2010 at 7:21 am

It can't – that's why the current concept for HULC is to act as a strength boost for the logistics lifter'n'shifter, who's sitting in a depot somewhere with a three-phase cable running down to him from the roof. Short of some VERY shiny new battery technology HULC isn't going to be out running patrols for some time.

Also, note that whilst 1.1 million dollars isn't much in the grand scheme of DoD funds, it is quite a lot of cash to throw at a *Test* programme rather than a development one, when you're just talking about personal equipment with no particular interoperability requirements (like a radio), firearms, or protective capability. That would (hopefully) suggest that the system is ready for acceptance testing and fielding.

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John July 16, 2010 at 3:27 pm

HULK Like HULC concept

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Scott July 16, 2010 at 4:11 pm

It strikes me that this would be used by logistics support troops in the rear areas first (loading/unloading trucks, for instance), and perhaps as the technology develops (and the power supply is THE problem) it would migrate towards the front lines…

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Adam July 16, 2010 at 7:07 pm

This seems to be the winner here.. imagine the load it could take off of troops unloading and loading supplies.. even in construction scenarios… could be nice to hold a whole girder up by yourself while someone tack welds it!

And, in this scenario, you don't even really need batteries… in a loading bay you could have an overhead power cable on some sort of track system. to power the thing. that, or you could have two or three battery packs that can be changed out when they die..

Yes, behind the lines is where this will be first useful, methinks.

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noquarter July 16, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Great point Adam. Remembering of course the difficult time building the defenses at COP Kahler in Wanat? Men dehydrated and having to rest to avoid medical issues. If they had these they could have got the HESCOs and other fortifications up much quicker and with less required drinking water and so forth.

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Tommo July 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Likewise. I'm thinking it more of a verstile forklift for doing logistical support in mountain terrain. wheeled forklift is a no go if you got to climb stair or large inclines. Not just for the military, I think there might be a commercial application for this…

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praetorian July 16, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Hey Greg, turn that Power Loader exoskeleton into the one they used in Avatar for offensive
capability.

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Will July 16, 2010 at 4:42 pm

The ones in Avatar were straight out of Japanese animation that has been around a long time. They looked great but would not be real practical. You wouldn't want to be in a thinly armored vehicle without the ability to get out of the line of fire.

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dumb dumb July 16, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Whats wrong with you? The power loader and the avatar power loader were both from cameron movies its the same designer…

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William C. July 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Well, the technology has to start somewhere. One of the future soldier concepts years ago showed a mockup of what a more "soldier-proof" system might look like.

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Randall July 16, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I agree with some of the previous comments, the only thing vs back the potential of the hulc is it power supply. Battery technology is woefully behind the advancements made in technology. Anyone with a smartphone knows what I’m talking about. And that’s just in terms of mobile networking, and advanced operating systems and hardware to match.

Add in hydraulics, electric motors, and other required hardware I know Im leaving out and you see its limitations…. right now that is.

This powered exoskeletons have much potential indeed.

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NamVet July 16, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Check out what two kiwis did at Physorg! Publicly shown by a paraplegic!

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JD Rhoades July 17, 2010 at 10:03 pm

What happens if you take a round through the processor unit? Nothing good, I'm thinking.

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brian July 18, 2010 at 2:14 am

just noticed one thing. the soldier is forced to carry his pistol in a crossdraw, almost chest mounted position instead of a regular thigh holster because the exoskeleton gets in the way.

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Matt July 19, 2010 at 2:08 am

Question: what ever happened to the XOS? remember that full body exoskeleton.. with the big power cable lol. mabye thats used for logistics and hulc for front lines? also with all the new talk of electric vehicals and electronics on the current vehicals couldnt the hulc (and nett warrior or land warrior or what ever theyre calling it now) just plug into a vehical to charge? how bout the lsss robot from darpa because i might as well thow that into this question
anyone got answers, thanks

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Philippe Geril July 19, 2010 at 7:36 am

One of the things not discussed is the fact that as the whole thing runs on a microprocessor, what the chances are of jamming the system and creating a static soldier strapped to his exoskeleton open to enemy fire.

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Matt July 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Na dude that was mentioned on someother site talking bou this (sry no link). The legs have some type of quick release for that reason (though it may have been talking bout BLEEX legs…)

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Big D July 20, 2010 at 4:19 pm

One question: do the hydraulics still whine?

I found an unedited youtube clip of a guy in a HULC walking past the camera some months back. The noise was unacceptable for combat operations.

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Rob July 16, 2010 at 1:15 pm

I’ve been extremely curious about that particular project. It seems to be so significantly far ahead of every other design, I suspect that their power requirements are absolutely huge.

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Scrib July 16, 2010 at 9:41 pm

How's this: armored up cav escorts. Essentially, tank operates as portable power supply during translocation as troopers maintain close proximity. When contact is made with the enemy, or contact is anticipated, troopers disconnect and spread out, allowing for flanking maneuvers and other tactical evolutions.

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dumb dumb July 16, 2010 at 6:21 pm

That sounds interesting

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Sev July 19, 2010 at 1:08 am

So hows that gonna work in rough terrain like afghanistan? There has to be some measure of practicality here. I mean if you're gonna have an armored escort why even bother with the armored trooper? You might as well put a 50 on the escort instead.

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greg July 17, 2010 at 7:44 pm

I agree at this point in the game that would be the only way of getting it done.

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greg July 17, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Also imagine how efficient this would be for domestic manufacturing transportation and construction. We could hit new levels of productivity while keeping these plugged in.

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