DARPA Wearable Tech Suit Could Help Soldiers Run a 4-Minute Mile

The Warrior Web Program is testing lightweight suits to reduce soldier injuries and fatigue.

A quick Google search of “Warrior Web” — a program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — shows images that appear to be from a science-fiction movie, not a government program.

What began nearly three years ago as an effort to create lightweight, exoskeleton suits to help reduce soldier injuries is showing promising results, according to DARPA. The agency says initial prototypes have undergone rigorous evaluation at the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research Facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

DARPA teamed with scientists from the Army Research Laboratory Human Research and Engineering Directorate to test nine prototype Warrior Web systems on soldiers during the first phase of the program, according to a May 5 news release. The first phase of testing is focused on technologies that can augment soldiers’ muscle work and increase their capabilities. The research team will address five key areas, including core injury mitigation and adaptive sensing and control.

Here’s a 2013 video of a soldier carrying 61 pounds while walking in a Warrior Web system prototype. That’s about half the weight dismounted soldiers carry while bending, running and crawling through rugged landscapes.

"The No. 1 reason for discharge from the military in recent years is musculoskeletal injury," says Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, former Warrior Web program manager. "Warrior Web is specifically being designed to address the key injuries at the ankle, knee, hip, lower back and shoulders."

DARPA is also assessing components, such as motors and springs, that could be integrated into the suit and enable soldiers to run a four-minute mile, says Hitt. “This may be a pathway to enhancing performance.”

Last year, Gizmag reported that “developers would also like the suit to augment the wearer's muscle movements and detect any injuries, while only requiring 100W of electric power or less from a small battery.”

Gizmodo readers noted that the technology could be applicable beyond the battlefield to firefighters, disabled veterans and athletes. It wouldn’t be the first time technology developed by the government made its way into the hands of consumers or other markets. GPS technology is one of many such examples.

Another phase of testing under the Warrior Web Program will explore other wearable technologies not included in the first phase. DARPA says the goal is to integrate "multiple mature component technologies into a system potentially wearable by 90 percent of the U.S. Army population, both male and female."

“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," says Hitt. "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."

<p>Defense Department</p>
May 15 2014