The U.S. military is just weeks away from getting a prototype for an Iron Man-like suit that would make soldiers stronger, give them real-time battlefield information, monitor their vital signs and even stop their bleeding.
Dubbed the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, the suit is expected to keep soldiers safer and give them an advantage on the battlefield.
The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), an organization that oversees special ops for the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, is in charge of the TALOS program.
"A suit like this would give us additional protection in a high-threat environment," Michael Fieldson, the SOCOM civilian in charge of the TALOS project, told Computerworld. "It's all about protection... I think it would be a significant [advantage], providing protections and additional awareness of the battle space."
A SOCOM spokesman said the prototype is expected to arrive sometime in June to begin testing.
The military is slated to begin outfitting soldiers with the final version of the suit in August 2018.
The suit, designed to be lightweight, efficient and nonrestrictive, would delay the onset of fatigue, enabling soldiers to travel farther in the field, while also supporting the body and protecting it from injuries when the soldier is carrying heavy loads.
The TALOS program is a collaboration among 56 corporations, 16 government agencies, 13 universities and 10 national laboratories. Among those participating is Harvard University, which has been were working on an Iron Man-like smart suit that could improve soldiers' endurance in war zones for more than two years.
"This unique collaboration effort is the future of how we should do business," Navy Adm. William H. McRaven said in a statement. "If we do TALOS right, it will be a huge comparative advantage over our enemies and give warriors the protection they need in a very demanding environment."
U.S. soldiers are often weighed down with more than 100 pounds of gear, such as water, batteries and ammunition. That heavy load not only tires them but makes them less agile and swift-footed when they're chasing an enemy combatant, who might not be carrying anything more than a weapon.
The robotic exoskeleton is designed to support the soldier's body, delaying the onset of fatigue, while also protecting it from injuries when the soldier is carrying heavy loads.
"We are really focused on load support -- the capability of transferring the load from the body to the armor," said Fieldson. "They can carry the weight for longer periods of time."
The suit also will be outfitted with a computer, Google-Glass-like visuals, communication tools and various embedded sensors. Some of the sensors will monitor the user's vital signs, body position and hydration levels, as well as body temperature. The body temperature sensor, for example, will trigger integrated heaters and coolers that will regulate the suit's temperature.
If the soldier is injured, the suit would be able to administer oxygen or control hemorrhaging by using smart fabrics.
"We're looking at different sensor technologies, moving past night vision,' said Fieldson, including "communications and computer access and a central computer that can disseminate sensor data and monitor different aspects of the soldier's vital signs and surrounding environment."
The U.S. military has been increasingly interested in how robotics can support soldiers on the battlefield.
Soldiers patrolling dangerous areas will soon be accompanied by autonomous robots programmed to scan the area with thermal imaging, send live images back to the command center, carry soldiers' heavy gear and transport wounded soldiers for medical care.
It may sound like science fiction, but it's only several years down the road, according to robotic researchers and U.S. military officials.
Last fall, Army leaders evaluated autonomous robots that move through water, sand and up rocky hills and that could one day aid U.S. troops. Robots shown during a weeklong demonstration at Fort Benning in Georgia were designed to carry 1,000 pounds of gear, follow foot soldiers on long treks and scan for land mines.
Other robots - ones armed with machine guns, grenades or missiles -- are being designed to back up human soldiers' in a firefight. The robots are quickly becoming part of the team.
This article, U.S. military beefs up soldiers with Iron Man-like suit, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Topic Center.