In September of last year, Natick sponsored a demonstration of a number of such personal augmentation technologies. “We are looking to advance a couple of the technologies demonstrated at the event,” Audet said. “But nothing is firm.”
On the commercial side, Ekso Bionics, the California-based firm that licenses its technology to Lockheed, is already providing its robotic suit to hospitals for rehabilitation of patients suffering from paralysis. “Our goal is to get [the suits] out to the home,” says Russ Angold, the chief technology Officer of Ekso Bionics. “Instead of going to a rehab centre, they can do the rehab in their home.”
Eventually, the company wants patients to be able to use the suits for everyday use, but that requires reducing the size, cost and complexity. “We think of our exoskeletons like the old suitcase cell phone,” says Angold. “As technology progresses, they’ll get smaller, lighter, more capable.”
One advantage that Ekso has is that the suit operates off battery power, so it doesn’t need to be tethered to a power source. Ekso designed its exoskeleton from the start as a low-power device, explains Angold: currently, its battery can power the suit for a couple of hours, but that number could go up if the company can take advantage of advances in the cell phone and laptop industry.
For any type of suit, the power supply is a key issue. The “Warrior Web” suit, according to Darpa, should not require “more than 100 Watts of electric power from the battery source.” For the exoskeleton, the energy challenge is greater. “Ironman got it right with the Arc reactor,” says Angold. “It really comes down to the power supply.”