In the fictional battlefields of sci-fi future specially trained soldiers are often depicted as using “power armor” to help them jump incredibly high, lift vehicles over their heads, and carry incredibly heavy equipment without being weighed down by its encumbrance. So called Power Armor was once thought as a fantasy, but developers in Japan have embraced the idea and developed powered exoskeletons for law enforcement.
The suits have jointed motors that take the strength of the user and amplify it. If a user lifts up a 100 lb dumbbell, but can only lift 70 lbs the suit can pick up the slack. Sensors indicate the weight of the object, and cut the difference making a 100 lb dumbbell feel as though it weighed a far easier 50 lbs. The suit itself braces the back and arms lifting as much as it can and distributing the rest to the user’s muscles. There is also a voice recognition system that takes commands the user gives. For example, there is a considerably different muscle response from jumping over a vehicle to lifting a heavy crate. Though the suits are not yet designed to be able to jump like this, it serves as an example of future dexterous endeavors that may be undertaken by the developers.
Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology’s Professor Shigeki Toyama is leading a team working to develop the power-suits. Toyama is planning on developing a corporation to start production and sales of the power suits before December of this year. Soon the product could be sold to law enforcement and military contracts, but also could be useful in warehouses and on farms where strength is key.
What will the cost be? If you’re planning on reenacting your favorite scene from Aliens using one of these suits you may have to pay one million yen (equivalent to $12,500 US) unless you want to wait until mass production halves the cost of the suit, which the makers estimate will likely happen shortly assuming demand for the suits is high enough. Unfortunately, these suits are not being currently considered for sales overseas. Of course this is natural at the moment, since the development stage is testing the market for a new product like this that has never been seen before. It is likely that there will soon after be limited access in the US and then eventually a sister company will be set up that will produce the suits for military and industrial contracts shortly afterward.
Potential developments from this product would also be incredibly useful for astronauts should they ever find themselves on a planet surface such as Mars. If the motor functions can amplify strength, they could also be calibrated to assist Mars explorers in gathering materials without worrying about their muscles becoming too used to the light surface of Mars.
Will the future of technology be implementing suits to enhance the strength of its users? It’s no secret that mobility is of the greatest importance to the military. And if technological strength can be translated into physical strength, then it seems there will be far more physical powerhouses in the battlefield of tomorrow.