TRAINING AND SIMULATION
Exoskeleton Simulator Could Save Army Millions
Exoskeletons have the ability to prevent soldier injuries caused by heavy loads. The Pentagon is currently working on several projects to advance this technology, most notably Special Operations Command’s tactical assault light operator suit.
The biomechanical exoskeleton simulator system created by RE2 — a company known for its development of robotic manipulator arms — will model the impact of load carriage and body-wearable robotic devices on musculoskeletal health and performance.
“It’s costly to develop prototypes … so one way to reduce those costs is to model the effects that these prototypes and products would have on the human body before you build it,” said Jorgen Pedersen, the president and CEO of RE2. “Ultimately you could be saving millions of dollars in development costs.” Such an approach could also speed up the process for building exoskeletons and getting the gear to soldiers on the battlefield, he said.
The technology is being created as part of a small business innovation research program with the Army. In February, the service awarded the company a $1 million phase 2 contract. During this stage — which will last two years — the company will develop the product and ensure that the simulation tool is producing accurate results, he said. It will do so by first using a physical exoskeleton to create models that reflect realistic sensory data output. Phase 2 builds off initial design and preliminary work completed in phase 1.
The tool itself is a plug-in for an existing software program called OpenSim, which is freely available and modifiable. The program enables users to create models of musculoskeletal structures, Pedersen said.
To create the plug-in, RE2 is working with several partners on the project. Ekso Bionics, a company that creates exoskeletons for the commercial market, is providing the hardware that RE2 will use to create its models, Pedersen said. Experts at Stanford University will help the company develop and integrate the plug-in into OpenSim. And the human engineering research laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh will work with the company to design and test the system.
Photo: Defense Dept.