Robotics

A prosthetic robot arm and hand. / Photo by: The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory via Wikimedia Commons

 

Soldiers, given a "third arm," might be able to perform more functions and have more vigor. This idea has led to the development of the first mechanical arm of the army unit called ONYX. The United States Army Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center will start testing the robotic arm later this year.

The ONYX exoskeleton arm is designed to make heavy weapons feel significantly lighter, relieve loads from the hips and knees, and improve the stamina of the wearer in the field. The first testing phase of the device will take place as early as fall of 2018 and it includes a six-month development effort. The researchers will focus on making the knee and hip-focused device fit comfortably to the soldier’s body.

For the second testing phase of ONYX, the researchers will be focused on adding quicker and quieter actuators, components of the robot responsible for control and movement. The third testing phase, meanwhile, will involve the application of ONYX in the training field. According to the estimate of officials, the ONYX device would likely be ready for field application as early as 2021.

“What we have right now is a very specific device, but we can learn from that device. I hope in the future what we’ll end up with is something that will help the soldier. Whether or not it’s in the form you see today, that’s less important,” stated Dan Baechle, a mechanical engineer working on the ONYX device.

In addition to testing ONYX, the soldiers included in the study will also be testing robotic vehicles. These vehicles are a part of the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport program, designed to act as gear carriers of the soldiers. So far, there are four robotic vehicles planned to be included in the testing phase.