Can Soldiers March Faster and Longer? This is a question that the Army is not only asking, but also actively working on as they develop new prototypes of soft suits that were designed by engineers at Harvard University. The suits will help soldiers to make longer marches and allow the soldiers to march faster without injury to certain muscles.
It is no secret that long marches and patrols can fatigue even the fittest soldiers. This is especially true when soldiers are carrying heavy loads or traveling over rough terrain, both of which are common in today’s military. Well, there may be a new “smart suit” on the horizon to help soldiers march faster, longer, and carry heavier loads.
The prototypes are being developed and tested by Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. They are working with the Army as well as with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The goal is to develop a “smart suit” that incorporates a complex set of webbing straps that also contain muscle strain sensors and a microprocessor. In simple terms, the unit will mimic the leg muscles of the soldier thus requiring less energy to be expended by the soldier. The reduction in energy loss should allow the soldier to be able to march faster and longer than if he or she were not wearing the suit.
To date, the suit has been tested at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Tests included wearing full battle gear and were conducted on treadmills and a paved three-mile course with some rough terrain also on the course. As of October 2014, nine prototypes have been tested by the Army Research Laboratory. DARPA officials are currently overseeing what is being dubbed the Warrior Web program.
Testing includes measuring the soldier’s stride frequency and length. Measurements are also taken on how long the person’s foot is in contact with the ground. The amount of energy that is expended is also measured in order for testers to calculate how many calories are being used in various types of walking conditions. In addition, testers evaluate muscle activity in order to learn more on just how much work various muscles must use for various types of walking: uphill, downhill, smooth road, rough terrain, etc.
According to both the Army and DARPA, having a suit ready for field use is not far off. During the various phases of testing, the suit has been streamlined and is now easier to wear in terms of fit and comfort. The suit’s systems have also been streamlined, reducing weight and adding functionality. No specific date has been set for the suit’s full release to troops.
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