Iron Man mass-production? Russian army may get combat exoskeletons by 2020

RIA Novosti/Vitaliy Ankov
A Russian defense contractor says it will be able to mass produce mind-controlled combat exoskeletons for Russian soldiers in five years. The devices would allow the troops to run faster, jump higher and lift weights beyond human capacity.

“I think in about five years we will have a neuro-interface to control exoskeletons and prosthetics through the brain’s electric impulses,” Aleksandr Kulish, the head of the medical equipment development and manufacturing department of Russia’s United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation, told TASS news agency.

The new system could increase the wearer’s strength and endurance manyfold, allowing soldiers to make tremendous leaps, lift and throw objects they normally could not, as well as carrying up to 300 kilograms of equipment.

An exoskeleton is essentially a ‘wearable robot’, an external skeleton-like structure that follows the shape of the wearer's body and partially encases it. It has joints and other mechanisms allowing it to repeat and strengthen the body's natural movements.

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The current neuro-interface allows for the control of an exoskeleton through visual images, says Aleksandr Kulish: “For example, a person imagines a black square, and the [exoskeleton's] hand unclenches, and if they imagine a red square, it clenches.”

Exoskeletons are being developed worldwide. Apart from military use, they could have numerous civilian implementations. Medical skeletons could assist the movement of injured, disabled, or overtly obese patients, while construction workers could benefit from the ability to lift greater loads.

The idea of the exoskeleton is borrowed from nature: Insects, crustaceans and other invertebrates use hard external casings to support and protect themselves, although in their cases, the shell covers all or most of the body.