DARPA’s New Exoskeleton Protects Soldiers From Their Own Too-Heavy Gear

If you think it’s a chore to schlep all your gadgets, their chargers, and their accessories around all day, spare a thought for the modern soldier, who is so encumbered with hi-tech augmentations–often over 100 pounds worth–that they now need an Iron Man suit just to get around. The problem is so bad that soldiers are developing arthritis in their twenties.

DARPA’s new battery-powered exoskeleton aims to shoulder some of that load.

Specialist Cacciatore of the U.S. Army, who tests the suit in the video, says that he isn’t sure if the suit boosts performance, but that “medically, it could help a lot of soldiers out, prevent muscle tears and other future injuries.”

The suit is part of DARPA’s Warrior Web program, which aims to keep soldiers from being injured by their own gear. “Of the many risks dismounted soldiers face in the field, one of the most common is injury from carrying their gear—often topping 100 pounds—for extended periods over rough terrain,” says the program’s outreach department. “Heavy loads increase the likelihood of musculoskeletal injury and also exacerbate fatigue, which contributes to both acute and chronic injury.”

The ultimate aim of the Warrior Web program is to make an exoskeleton that augments the soldier’s own strength, while being as easy to pull on and off as a set of long underwear. And while injury prevention is the goal, it seems like each successive cyborg augmentation reduces the soldier to combat-trained meat inside an increasingly autonomous war robot. How long before the human is removed altogether?