A couple of weeks ago, I went camping with a friend in Algonquin Park, a couple hours north of Toronto. The weather forecast was nasty – rain, temperatures near zero and possible snow – and we were set to do back country camping, about five kilometers in from the nearest road. Rather than ditch our plans, we decided to go for it anyway.
I planned – and packed – for every eventuality. Rather than skipping in with a nice, light load, I brought along one of those big, battery-powered air mattresses, plus a giant, bulky fleece blanket (with dolphins on it). There was no way I was going to freeze, I thought.
In the end, I wasn’t too cold at night, even though it did snow, but I very nearly exhausted myself. Carrying all that stuff in was absolute hell. By the time we reached our campsite, and on the return, I was just about ready to cry from the agony. (We also lugged in another necessity: beer.)
It was with great interest, then, that I read about the latest project from the mad scientists at DARPA, the Pentagon’s advanced technology division. The “Warrior Web” is a light-weight undersuit that is designed to prevent injuries and lighten the load of soldiers, who often have to hump a hundred pounds or more of equipment over long distances. As per the release:
DARPA seeks to develop an unobtrusive, lightweight under-suit embedded with a web of miniature sensors, functional structures and compliant actuation. The suit, for example, may automatically sense when to stiffen and relax at key body joints to help prevent injury, as well as augment the work done by muscles to help counter the negative impacts of fatigue on performance and injury.
There is still a ways to go before such a suit can be built, DARPA says. “Injury mitigation technologies; comprehensive representations of biomechanical processes; regenerative actuation technologies; adaptive sensing and control technologies; and advancements in potential suit human-to-machine interfaces” must first be developed. However, the agency believes that a suit would follow on from all of these in short order.
The Warrior Web under-suit sounds complementary to both the Iron Man and HULC exoskeletons being worked on by defense contractors Raytheon and Lockheed, respectively, both of which are discussed in Sex, Bombs and Burgers. Having experienced that hike from hell, I can’t wait for any or all of these technologies to come to fruition. Then, carrying in my dolphin blanket will be a piece of cake.
(Image from Wired)