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During a Demo Day in May, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) showcased some of its most exciting developments to members to the press and the defence community.
One of the more interesting creations exhibited was the soft exosuit. This soft robotic exoskeleton consists of a series of cables that run along a soldier’s body that are designed to help the wearer carry heavy loads over long distances.
The current exosuit prototype weighs just 4.5 kg with a small motor mounted in a rucksack. The suit uses sensors to learn and understand the wearer’s walking pattern to adjust to their speed and gait, while the motor does the heavy lifting of reducing the soldier’s workload. While there are still years of development ahead, the exosuit seems an extremely promising venture.
Autonomous submarines are also on DARPA’s radar. Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting (DASH) is a tubular unmanned sub that has been tested to depth of 5,000m below the surface. DARPA is still working on DASH’s power storage (currently it uses a lithium battery which limits operation to about an hour), but when it will be ready it will help the Navy detect enemy submersibles and ships from great distances.
DARPA is not thinking only of frontline and battle requirements, however. The robotic arm the agency is working on was one of the most talked-about projects during the Demo Day. John Matheney, a civilian who in 2008 lost an arm to cancer, demonstrated this unique prosthetic that integrates directly into the bone and “uses sensors to pick up nerve signals from the brain to generate movement,” Army Times reports. Matheney says the prosthetic works well enough to “gently hold a toddler’s hand one minute, and exhibit significant strength the next.”
This particular device could be a godsend for veterans who were maimed in service, and perhaps in the future be used by those who need it in the general population.