May 5, 2011

West Point Cadets Build Exoskeleton

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An exoskeleton built by nine mechanical-engineering cadets, led by Cadet Stewart Huntoon, at the United States Military Academy at West Point (West Point), New York, was one of 305 thesis and design projects presented at West Point’s 2011 Project Day held April 28.

The exoskeleton reduces strain by transferring weight to metal brackets that run the length of a soldier’s legs. Two small motors connected to wires help pull the soldier’s leg up as he or she takes each step. A control box tracks the soldier’s gait to help pace the motors. The system can relieve roughly 50 percent of the load carried in rucksacks, which can weigh as much as 150 pounds, according to an online article in the Middletown, New York-based Times Herald-Record.

“He’s going to wear it just like a pair of pants and focus on his mission,” Cadet Robert Tomczak, who helped design the exoskeleton, was quoted as saying.

The innovation has tactical applications. Some gear, like long-range surveillance equipment, is so heavy that it has to be helicoptered into operating posts. The exoskeleton could help soldiers carry such hefty gear between posts without giving away their position to enemies.

The exoskeleton weighs 45 pounds and its batteries last for about two-and-a-half hours. The cadet team hopes the exoskeleton’s weight can be reduced and battery life extended in future iterations.

Also presented at Project Day was version 3.0 of the West Point Bionic Foot. The first edition of the foot that launched in 2009 was suitable for walking. The second installment enabled users to run on a treadmill. Version 3.0 users can run on a treadmill for two miles. The latest foot iteration weighs less than prior models and some of its original design flaws have been corrected. (Editor’s note: For more information on the West Point Bionic Foot, read "West Point Bionic Foot Achieves Powered Running," in the October 2010 issue of The O&P EDGE.)

“Our goal is to create a prosthetic that can be used for combat,” Cadet Ann Hershey, one of the five member team that presented the foot, said.

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