DARPA’s Warrior Web project may provide superhuman enhancements
Dismounted Soldiers carrying full battle gear are pushed to their physical limits. Soldiers often heft 100 pounds or more of essentials. How the Soldier of the future maintains a decisive edge may lie in innovations developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA.
“That load is a critical issue,” said Lt Colonel Joe Hitt, who until recently was Warrior Web Program Manager. “In Warrior Web, we want to explore approaches which make that kind of load feel, in terms of the effort to carry it, as if its weight has been cut in half. That’s the goal.”
DARPA launched the Warrior Web programme in September 2011, seeking to create a soft, lightweight undersuit to help reduce injuries and fatigue while improving mission performance.
“The number one reason for discharge from the military in recent years is musculoskeletal injury,” Hitt said. “Warrior Web is specifically being designed to address the key injuries at the ankle, knee, hip, lower back and shoulders.”
Warrior Web would protect injury-prone areas by stabilising and reducing stresses on joints and promoting efficient and safe movement over a wide range of activities, he said. While protecting against injury, Warrior Web also seeks to make Soldiers into better performers by giving them the feeling of a lighter load and enhancing their existing physical capabilities.
Wearable technologies are the newest buzz in the commercial tech world. Sensors can measure heartbeats, blood pressure and steps taken. This information is useful to an individual interested in trying to live a healthy, active lifestyle. However, the information may be critical to a small unit leader when Soldiers are networked together. A leader would be able to monitor health signs in real time to better evaluate situations and make good decisions.
DARPA, along with scientists from the Army Research Laboratory Human Research and Engineering Directorate (ARL-HRED), tested nine prototype Warrior Web systems on Soldiers over 21 weeks during the first phase of the programme.
The Army has looked at offloading gear to a robotic asset or even precision airdrops as ways of reducing Soldier load.
The initial prototypes went through rigorous evaluation at the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research Facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. This facility features a state-of-the-art biomechanics laboratory where researchers capture high-resolution, highly-controlled data. Immediately adjacent to lab, there is a two-and-a-half-mile cross-country course through the woods.
DARPA is also partnering with the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), and Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts.
During the first period of testing, known as Task A, researchers are exploring technologies to augment muscle work and increase Soldier capabilities. The team is addressing five key areas:
Core injury mitigation
Comprehensive analytical representations
Adaptive sensing and Control Suit human-to-wearer interface
Warrior Web will soon get its final test. “Thirty months from today, we will outfit a squad with our suits and we will compete against a squad without them in activities such as the 12-mile rucksack march, marksmanship and the obstacle course,” Hitt said. “Our vision is to significantly reduce the time it takes to do a rucksack march and then when you get onto the marksmanship course, you’re almost as fresh as if you hadn’t marched at all.”
The Army Research Laboratory is part of the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.
The US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command is a major subordinate command of the US Army Materiel Command (AMC). AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness – technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment – to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.