Could Robotic Assistance for the Physically Impaired Be Next?
March 11, 2004 10:55 AM   Subscribe

US Military Develops Robotic Exoskeleton. The Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton, or Bleex, is powered by an internal combustion engine, and can allow soldiers or rescue workers to carry heavy loads over long distances. Article is a follow-up to this story. Perhaps this is the first step towards robotic assistance for the physically impaired. (Aside: a thank you to Soyjoy, who is a good man indeed!)
posted by mcgraw (37 comments total)
The BLEEX exoskeleton project is based at UC Berkeley.

Includes photos and videos.
posted by linux at 11:05 AM on March 11, 2004

see also Japan's HAL , which is being positioned as a physical impairment aid first, and not as a harbinger for powered armor. (because, after all, you can't seriously consider Japanese powered armor unless you've developed missile swarms and plasma blades)
posted by bl1nk at 11:11 AM on March 11, 2004

I welcome our new Robotic Exoskeleton Overlords!

I've always wanted to say that!
This is a cool development that I hope is converted to non-military uses as suggested in the FPP.

And then I want it converted to play use so I can leap tall buildings in a single bound and have the strength of ten men so I can fight the Alien Queen!
posted by fenriq at 11:19 AM on March 11, 2004

Not to mention Japanese powered armor would only come in a Size 0, and have three standard colors: pink, red, and fuschia.
posted by linux at 11:20 AM on March 11, 2004

fenriq - damn, I was just going to mention that - hasn't Hollywood had these things for almost 20 years? Since Alien 1, at least ? I'd say that the Pentagon's been slow to pick this one up. Oh well, they'll throw a couple of billion into the project to get up to speed.
posted by troutfishing at 11:23 AM on March 11, 2004

Looks a little bulky right now.

posted by fenriq at 11:23 AM on March 11, 2004

Excellent links, linux and bl1nk.
posted by mcgraw at 11:23 AM on March 11, 2004

fenriq, that's about the size of the packs I'd carry on my field exercises. Considering in the article, it says the engine is small and leaves space for extra payload, I'd assume that the engine doesn't take up the entire ruck.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 11:32 AM on March 11, 2004

It looks like the system helps to carry its own weight so that makes it easier but they'll have to slim that design down for civilian applications.

I wonder how strong it can make people? Could I leg press a car with it on?
posted by fenriq at 11:37 AM on March 11, 2004

mcgraw, your soyjoy fetish flat-out gives me the creeps.
posted by eastlakestandard at 11:41 AM on March 11, 2004

This is perhaps another case of being too enamored of technology. It is quite possible to attain greater running speed and distance, for example, with no motors, no electronics, and very little additional weight. I've googled for a while now, but can't find what I want. What I'm thinking of is this guy who made these leaf-spring like appendages that could be attached to the legs; they were jointed to the rear (like a bird's legs), and were made of carbon fiber. The made the guy a couple of feet taller, but his stride length was greatly enhanced. Basically, the notion is that a human running loses a lot of energy between impact and take-off of the foot; this device stores impact energy and gives it back upon take-off, plus has the benefit of increasing stride length. Hence, greater speed and distance with the same energy output.

My larger point, though, is that it is too easy to look to the flashiness of robotics and electronics to solve problems that could be addressed more elegantly with orthagonal approaches.
posted by yesster at 11:43 AM on March 11, 2004

jakeextreme - what, are you smoking crack? that's a MASSIVE pack...i'd have to assume that they're showing off the power of the legs being able to carry large weights.

that's probably twice the size of an alice pack with tent and sleeping roll.

fenriq - damn you! I wanted to do the overlord joke!
posted by taumeson at 11:44 AM on March 11, 2004

alright, i'm must be the height. it's still larger, but not twice as large.

alice pack=

and imagine some squad automatic weapon barrels on top of that thing...well, i could see how your ruck could get to be that size.
posted by taumeson at 11:46 AM on March 11, 2004

and, of course, that picture i posted has extra pockets on it. while not standard issue, a lot of guys who are going on overseas tours get 'em if they're allowed.
posted by taumeson at 11:47 AM on March 11, 2004

When I found Metafilter, my response was to troll and illicit bickering and this was the intention of many of my posts. I admit, this was a bad idea. Soyjoy forgave me for going too far with this. I respect that and wished to undo some harm. That's all. Sorry to creep you out. I hope my aside makes more sense now.
posted by mcgraw at 11:51 AM on March 11, 2004

My larger point, though, is that it is too easy to look to the flashiness of robotics and electronics to solve problems that could be addressed more elegantly with orthagonal approaches.

It's about carrying more weight in the form of supplies, equipment, and weaponry, not just conserving human energy while loping down a lane.
posted by linux at 11:52 AM on March 11, 2004

It's about carrying more weight in the form of supplies, equipment, and weaponry, not just conserving human energy while loping down a lane. the infantry, they're the same EXACT thing. one of the major topics that infantry has been looking at for thousands of years is how to have your grunts ready to fight at the end of a force march. we've got that licked because of cavalry, kinda...but we still have a lot of soldiers patrolling and such, and so it'd be helpful for them to carry not just weapons, food, and clothing, but also the battle computers of the future, robotic drones, advanced medical supplies, etc.

so, as the armed forces get more stuff they need to shuttle around, they're going to need to find a way to have their soldiers hump it on their backs, yet still be able to fight when they need to...and they do that by conserving human energy.
posted by taumeson at 12:25 PM on March 11, 2004

mcgraw - eastlakestandard was simply indulging himself in a little in-joke based on this, I think. No worries.
posted by crunchburger at 12:29 PM on March 11, 2004

I appreciate the explanation, crunchburger.
Thank god eastlakestandard doesn't know about my Asian fetish! Whew!
posted by mcgraw at 12:44 PM on March 11, 2004

I like the potential these have for handicapped people. They would have a LOT more flexibility with being able to walk, as compared to having to be in a wheelchair.
posted by stoneegg21 at 12:58 PM on March 11, 2004

posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:59 PM on March 11, 2004

Dan: That's my prototype exoskeleton suit. The first time I tried it out, it broke my arm.

Laurie: That sounds like the kind of costume that could really mess you up.

Dan: Is there any other kind?
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:17 PM on March 11, 2004

yesster : Powerisers?
posted by punilux at 1:28 PM on March 11, 2004

taumeson - why do you think I said "not just" in reply to the previous post?
posted by linux at 1:29 PM on March 11, 2004

The Powerrisers are an interesting development and have their applications. But the reason for the exoskeleton is, as others have already noted, to cart more gear to be a more effective force in battle.

As an aside, has anyone seen the stupid commercial with the guy on Powerrisers dunkinga basketball? Its like, the guy's an extra two feet taller, I'd HOPE he could dunk it now!
posted by fenriq at 1:48 PM on March 11, 2004

The poweriser is pretty much like what I remember - thanks.
posted by yesster at 2:24 PM on March 11, 2004

Perhaps this is the first step towards robotic assistance for the physically impaired.

Bah. This is the first step towards ME HAVING SUPERPOWERS!
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:02 PM on March 11, 2004

Hmmm. Maybe this technology is the way for me to have what effectively feels like an ultralite backpack (sub-20lbs) and carry all the beer, camp cots, and comfortable chairs that I want with me!
posted by five fresh fish at 6:04 PM on March 11, 2004

Jesus, the military needs to take some lessons from backpacking tourists. There's simply no reason for carrying all that crap. First thing I'd get rid of is all the extra clothes. All you need for clothing you're already wearing (ok, maybe an extra jacket). If the military wasn't so asinine about having shiny shoes and polished buckles and clean clothing, they could probably lose 10 lbs. from their load.

That said, did anyone else think of this when they saw this article?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:05 PM on March 11, 2004

nah, when you're out in the field you don't care TOO much about polishing...and anyway, brasso and kiwi and a rag MIGHT way all of 1 pound.

the thing about the military is that they might have only their backpack for a few months. theoretically that won't happen, but that's the way the military's been trained for a long time. the only thing that they can count on being resupplied are the beans, bullets, and band-aids.
posted by taumeson at 6:43 PM on March 11, 2004

Civil you are right military gear pretty much is the worst possible when it comes to backpacking weight. Most military people seem to take pride in how much weight they can carry but remember how guerillas can traditionally move faster and further than line troops because they are not so weighed down. SFOs seem to understand the weight issue better but even Marines are still hauling around gear that was outdated years ago.

The fastest army in history was the Mongols. They traveled 70 miles a day and under duress could do 120+ miles a day. This is the entire army unit, not just special elements. By comparison the Blitzkrieg tanks of Germany in WWII went 30 or 40 on a good day. Horses are the way to go, low maintenance, fast, reliable.
posted by stbalbach at 7:41 PM on March 11, 2004

I certainly would not want to be wearing a pair of these if they got damaged. Say, in a firefight or by shrapnel. The last thing I would want in the heat of battle would be a frozen metal framework tying up my legs.
posted by moonbiter at 10:07 PM on March 11, 2004

Plus, I wonder how loud the engine is. And how dangerous it is to wear a can of gasoline on your back.
posted by moonbiter at 10:11 PM on March 11, 2004

Product Flaw number one :

Taliban #1 to Taliban #2 - "You can take out those things with a single small caliber bullet, a slingshot, or even a well thrown rock - if you hit one of the fuel or hydraulic lines. Then, the Americans just fall over or burst into flames. It's kind of sad."


Anyway, I wonder if the REAL target for these machines is as a consumer product, for Americans grown too fat (on super-sized fast food burgers and fries) to support their own weight? Civilian consumer applications are a bit less demanding.

The evil Baron Harkonnen, from the "Dune" series, had one such device. The baron was grotesquely fat but, with the device, he did not need to walk or even stand up - he could float around in the air whilst committing sadistic acts, scheming evil schemes and bellowing evil laughter.
posted by troutfishing at 7:51 AM on March 12, 2004

If you get a chance, you should really take a look at the videos at the link linux gave us above. I just got around to watching them today, and they answer at least one of my questions. I definitely would not want to be caught wearing these. Even given the fact that this is bleeding-edge tech, I had to laugh out loud.

I especially liked the touch of putting the kid in camo fatigues.
posted by moonbiter at 9:33 AM on March 12, 2004

First thought: "Get away from her, you bitch!"
posted by inpHilltr8r at 1:22 PM on March 12, 2004

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