EKSO Bionics, who are not participating in Cybathlon but are developing bionic equipment for university teams in the competition, have this week announced a new deal with the U.S Special Operations Command. The deal is for the development of the robotic exoskeleton the United States has commissioned to be built for its soldiers.
The Tactical Assault Light Operator (TALOS) suit, which must be bulletproof, weaponised and have the ability to examine and monitor the vital organs of the wearer, is designed to also give the wearer superhuman strength and perception.
This is the third deal of its kind between the two groups, and Ekso Bionics’ previous work has led to the US Patent Office providing it with three new patents.
The Special Operations Command revealed in 2014 that plans to design the superior uniform for the Special Operations Forces were ongoing. In the long-term, plans have been made to complete a suit which provides complete ballistic protection – which has unsurprisingly drawn comparisons to video game character Master Chief from the Halo series.
It is believed that, at this initial stage at least, the suit would not be intended for an entire squad of Special Forces – such as the team which brought down Osama Bin Laden and inspired the critically-acclaimed film Zero Dark Thirty – and instead by used by a lead operator who could protect other units from harm by, for example, moving through doorways first.
“The suit has drawn comparisons with video game character Master Chief from the Halo series”
The issue of the weight of the suit on a soldier’s body is to be resolved by what has been termed ‘intelligent weight distribution’ and other pieces of equipment, such as advanced night vision, 3D audio and highly advanced communications gear can be combined with the suit.
Originally known as Berkeley Bionics, Ekso Bionics was founded in California just ten years ago and has received research grants from Berkeley University and the United States Department of Defense prior to the TALOS deal.
The company is working alongside Lockheed Martin on TALOS, as Lockheed Martin has an exclusive contract with the US military. Formed only 20 years ago, Lockheed Martin has grown to employ over 100,000 staff and has become one of the world’s largest defence suppliers.
As Inside Cybathlon revealed in 2014, Ekso Bionics are committed to their work on disabilities as well as the more high-profile deal with the military super-suits.
They say they “are committed to applying the latest technology and engineering to help people rethink current physical limitations and achieve the remarkable.”
Ekso Bionics rejected a chance to participate in the event due to their focus on the training of such devices rather than developing them for use in daily life.
CORRECTION: This article was edited on 28th May 2015 to make it clear that, while Ekso Bionics technology will be used by teams at Cybathlon, the company themselves will not be competing.