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US Army to Build Armored Talos Suit That Merges Man and Machine

US_Army_Talos (2)

The US Army recently put out a call for proposals to build a futuristic climate-controlled suit of armor that would make soldiers smarter, stronger, and tougher. As ever, it’s tempting to draw Hollywood comparisons—Iron Man, in this casebecause they fire up the imagination and serve as a simple metaphor.

Of course, despite a few shared objectives, what’s being proposed here isn’t remotely on par with the Iron Man suit. It won’t fly; it won’t have a friendly AI chatting away in a soldier’s ear; it won’t have a miniature Arc Reactor delivering heat-free power equivalent to a nuclear sub. And it’s yet just a concept.

To accelerate the project, the army recently requested white papers from industry, academia, individuals, and public labs to speculate on how such a suit (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit or TALOS) might be built.

Although it isn’t Iron Man, might a simpler suit be realistic? Sure. Many of the required technologies are already here. And in fact, a number of their inventors gathered at a July demonstration for TALOS (below). The army says it expects ”1st gen capability” inside a year. Though realistically, it might be longer than that.

TALOS will likely feature a powered exoskeleton for strength and endurance. Two possible candidates are Lockheed Martin’s HULC or Raytheon’s XOS 2. These exoskeletons endow super-strength, allowing soldiers to easily lift weights of a few hundred pounds.

Meanwhile, advanced Kevlar body armor dipped in a kind of liquid ceramic may serve as a light, bulletproof skin for the suit. Norman Wagner, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Delaware, told NPR, “It transitions when you hit it hard. These particles organize themselves quickly, locally in a way that they can’t flow anymore and they become like a solid.”

And as for head-mounted displays—there’s been a flurry of activity in the augmented reality space over the last year or so. You’ve heard of Google Glass and its display projected directly on the retina. Other examples include Vusix, GlassUp, and Meta SpaceGlasses. The military may find a viable design in the crowd or build their own based on similar technology, adding additional powers, like night vision, into the mix.

A central challenge will be power. The suit would require a battery pack. But even with a good set of batteries, it couldn’t operate for extended periods away from a power source for charging. And big batteries have been known to explode in electric cars—friendly fire the military would no doubt like to avoid.

But improving battery technology is already getting plenty of dollars and research in the electric car industry. And absent better batteries (or cold fusion), the less glamorous solution would be to keep the suit and soldier tethered to a vehicle for heavy lifting.

The military is also funding research into robots to aid soldiers in the field. Boston Dynamics’ Darpa-funded LS3, for example, is nearing use in the field as a pack-robot that can autonomously (yet dutifully) follow its master. Other Boston Dynamics military robots include Atlas and Wildcat. And of course, the military already infamously uses drones to perform surveillance and precision strikes.

Thankfully, the technology isn’t only for warfare—there are peaceful applications too.

Google Glass and other wearable devices may soon augment smartphones for technophiles. Exoskeletons or other robotic prosthetics may give disabled folks new freedom or prevent injuries for industrial workers handling heavy loads. At home or on the front lines, it appears the merger of man and machine continues apace.

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9 comments

  • Fons Jena says:

    Nice development but I believe the future will be tele-operated humanoid robots (TOHR’s). The operator is attached to a suspended exoskeleton that measures his limbs’ relative positions to his waist, he also wears a VR goggle and earphones. The skeleton can also provide force feedback for all limbs, hands and feet. Once all angles are known it is a question of reproducing them in a humanoid robot. Of course there are some issues such as proper feedback (body orientation, tactile feedback, foot pressure feedback, …), delay times and wireless transmission issues but externalizing the human factor seems (for me) the only way forward (AI and exoskeletons are to limited). But anyway, good that they are investing in these technologies!

    • Allen Luo says:

      There’s a very big vulnerability to remote controlled combat units, as signals can be intercepted and hacked. The advantages to a living, breathing operator inside the suit is that you only have to worry about the mental health of the driver.

  • Calum says:

    It’s not very far from suits like this to soldier-bots, which may well become the first live test of “relinquishment”. When people see bots killing people on the evening news there may well be a backlash, and calls for a global ban on the technology. This has worked for chemical weapons – except for the world’s worst monsters, like Saddam Hussain and Bashir Al-Assad – but slowing down the progress of the military application of AI is likely to be harder. If it fails, there will be nothing standing in the way of a full-on AGI in due course. bit.ly/170uDbM

    • Allen Luo says:

      I think we’re still a ways off from having an army of mass produced robot soldiers. The only way I can see that happening is when and if artificial intelligence grows to the point where some rudimentary form of sentience has to be acknowledged. I don’t think any organization would willingly ‘relinquish’ the power of life and death over to robots until that sentience has been proven, for precisely the reasons that we still make movies about terminators and machine uprisings. It is just as easy to lose control of your robotic soldiers and have them used against you as it is for you to use them against your opponents, until robots actually gain the ability to objectively reason for themselves and not just follow commands to shoot this, or kill that.

      The way things are going right now, its more likely that small military/law enforcement units will have a hybrid of human operators and robotic helpers. One thing about a mass produced robot force is that you don’t need to give them lethal weapons. If they are destroyed, they can be easily replaced. Their tactics can then be modified purely for stunning/incapacitating their targets, without regard for self preservation. This would easily skirt the concern over the backlash you are talking about.

  • dobermanmacleod says:

    I am really surprised they haven’t ordered this sooner. Special forces protected by such a suit could be sustained in a “hot zone” that an un-augmented soldier would quickly perish in. Even from a purely functional perspective, less combat attrition would be a gigantic force multiplier. BTW, my suggestion is to make it chemical and biological weapons resistant by also including air tight in the specs – then the liquid oxygen could be used as a fuel too. An additional plus would be a jet pack (LOX powered) to soften landings and to allow enhanced jump and mobility.

  • Lucky Saint Luis says:

    If they would be made smarter they will not be soldiers anymore, but there is a lot of armour we could develope for the rest of the apps demanded. Also intelligence control (not think at all because the suit is doing the thinking). Now point is how far is it with the intelligence of a army or shall we better think “space troopers”? Maybe some true existing enemies are waiting on saturn or elsewhere or the paranoid will invent some like he always did.
    By the way. I do not belive that the army is doing such public demand.

  • loganlinthicum says:

    Google Glass does not use direct retinal projection.

  • Gislist
    Gislist says:

    I would think the best solution would be an implementation of composites of graphene reinforced ceramics, cnt fiber weave if possible, otherwise carbon fiber weave, materials like tungsten-titanium alloys, which could be laced with artificial diamond and formed into a scale-like material arranged on elastic fastings- to mitigate tension from explosion etc, which would otherwise break the metal under the diamond- on a backing plate of perhaps carbon-aerogel backed heavy metal alloy. Then I would put some kevlar and liquid armor on top of that to spread the impacts even further.
    This could be achieved with modern 3D printers and advanced metallurgy and be made compact enough to only take a couple of centimeters of thickness on top of the insulation, skeleton and hopefully-artificial-muscle system of the suit.

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