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

Re­gen­er­a­tive ki­net­ics

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.

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