In spite of it being one of our most-anticipated movies of 2013, we wound up having mixed feelings about Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium. The high expectations set by District 9 were certainly part of it, but overall Elysium just didn’t soar as high as we’d hoped. But one area that was unquestionably badass? The exoskeletons sported by Matt Damon’s Max and Sharlto Copley’s Kruger. Apparently we weren’t the only ones to think so, as YouTuber The Hacksmith is in the process of building his own powered exoskeleton, and it just passed the impressive test of easily curling 170 pounds. Check it out up top, and here’s a tech featurette from Elysium for comparison’s sake.
In the latest case of life imitating art, the United States government is working to create a real life Iron Man suit. Watching Marvel’s three standalone movies, plus The Avengers, we’ve all sat there and thought about how cool it would be to fly around in one of those bad boys, and apparently so did the military. Now they’re asking Hollywood for a helping hand.
The Wall Street Journal (or the Verge if you’re not one to pony up for WSJ’s subscription fee, and how many of us do that?) is reporting some new details of the suits, known as Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, an acronym that is straight out of a comic book. They’ve brought in the help of companies like Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Raytheon, which makes sense, these are just the kind of private contractors that you would expect to be involved in a project like this.
Even though Paul the prophetic octopus is no longer with us, and even though Brazil is struggling to get the necessary infrastructure and amenities completed in time, I’m looking forward to the 2014 World Cup. I’ve played soccer since I was a kid, and watching the best players in the world do their thing for 90 minutes is a joy, especially since there are no commercials in each 45-minute half. It doesn’t hurt that soccer players are easy on the eyes, either. I don’t really need another reason to tune in, but now I have one, a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton will make its World Cup debut this year.
On June 12 at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paolo, a Brazilian paraplegic will wear the exoskeleton, get out of his or her wheelchair, walk to the middle of the field, and start the World Cup by kicking a ball. Miguel Nicolelis developed the device. Among other things, he’s a neuroengineer who became a TED talk darling with an early manifestation of his idea involving monkeys controlling robots.
Why buy a robot when you can wear one? Especially if wearing one makes you into an alien-fighting superhero. The “body extender” exoskeleton made by engineers at Italy’s Perceptual Robotics Laboratory is just that, and is touted as the most advanced wearable robot out there.
This exoskeleton is very flexible, and it essentially tracks a user’s movements — if the wearer squats or bends to pick something up, the exoskeleton goes with him, albeit slowing down his actions just a little bit. This is how it gets the name “body extender,” as it integrates with the wearer seamlessly enough that it functions as an extension of his body, rather than as a separate apparatus.
While Elysium raises some frightening possibilities about the implications of the class divide, it did present a pretty awesome futuristic possibility in Matt Damon’s exoskeleton. A possibility that, like so many others from sci-fi, seems poised to become reality.
NASA, along with engineers from Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston and the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, is developing the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton, intended to make astronauts more like Iron Man.
The device weighs 57 pounds and attaches to the astronaut via a back and shoulder harness and fittings over the legs. The knee and hip joints are motorized, and the exoskeleton has other passive joints that enable turning, flexing, and other adaptive and reactive movements. All told, it has 10 joints or degrees of freedom.
For people with forms of lower body paralysis, there’s no end in sight for wheelchairs being the optimal way of getting around. But in a few years, the MindWalker Project could be a suitable, if not commonplace, alternative.
While it’s not a way to reverse or treat the paralysis itself, the MindWalker is a full-body exoskeleton that could one day allow those with lower-limb paralysis to walk around using only the power of their minds. It’s nearing the end of a three-year development funded by the European Commission, and over the past eight weeks, five people were able to take part in a clinical trial. The E.C. will provide their review once the trial reaches completion this week.
The system is not ideal just yet, but it works as such: the user wears an EEG cap that measures electrical activity across the scalp, and a pair of special glasses with lenses attached to diodes that flicker at different frequencies. If the person looks to the left, the exoskeleton walks — well, lurches forward would be a better description — and looking to the right causes the machine to stop. The initial problem with this method is that the noise from the machine itself messes with the EEG signal, but the researchers figured out how to get around that problem.