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US Navy to test Fortis exoskeletons


August 25, 2014

Lockheed Martin is providing the US Navy with two Fortis exoskeletons

Lockheed Martin is providing the US Navy with two Fortis exoskeletons

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Move over, Tony Stark; the US Navy is going Iron Man. The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) has ordered a pair of Fortis exoskeletons from Lockheed Martin for testing and evaluation. The unpowered exoskeletons won’t give sailors superhuman strength, but they will allow them to handle heavy equipment for longer periods with less fatigue.

One popular myth is that modern naval vessels are push-button workplaces where sailors spend all day staring at screens and clicking mice. In fact, life aboard even the most advanced warship has more in common with Admiral Nelson than Captain Picard, with crews carrying out demanding physical tasks at close quarters to keep the ship in fighting trim. They may not be hauling guns or setting sails, but when it comes to everyday tasks like loading munitions, rigging equipment, or just handling a portable sander, a surprising amount of brute strength and stamina is still required in modern navies.

"Ship maintenance often requires use of heavy tools, such as grinders, riveters or sandblasters," says Adam Miller, director of new initiatives at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. "Those tools take a toll on operators due to the tools’ weight and the tight areas where they are sometimes used. By wearing the Fortis exoskeleton, operators can hold the weight of those heavy tools for extended periods of time with reduced fatigue."

The US armed forces have been looking into the possibilities of exoskeletons for years as government-backed development projects, such as Lockheed’s HULC and Raytheon’s XOS 2. But where the Army has concentrated on powered skeletons to help soldiers carry heavier loads over rough terrain, the Navy is interested in a day-to-day exoskeleton that sailors can use routinely.

Unlike powered exoskeletons, Fortis works like a frame that increases the wearer’s strength and endurance by channeling the weight of heavy objects away from the wearer's body and down through the exoskeleton to the ground. This allows operators to carry objects weighing up to 36 lb (16.3 kg) as if they were weightless. Lockheed says that Fortis with its Equipois ZeroG arm can reduce fatigue by 300 percent and improve productivity by 200 to 2,700 percent.

But if it sounds like something rigid, Lockheed says that Fortis is more like the steadicam rig used by filmmakers. It can be used in standing and kneeling positions, is adjustable to different heights and body types, and the joints and ergonomic design do not hinder movement or flexibility.

According to Lockheed, the US navy contract is the first procurement of the Fortis exoskeleton, and is intended to evaluate how to adapt the technology for defense needs and hand-tool applications at Navy shipyards.

Source: Lockheed Martin

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Speaking as an ex-career sailor, I approve. No one can understand how much this is needed without having made a cruise or done grunt work in a shipyard.


Find it satisfying that perhaps what was originally targeted at Military logistics would work its way into the civilian contractor space.

While the exo suit's glory of leaping walls and carrying hundreds of pounds worth of backpack and guns in enemy territory will never go away, slowly people are seeing other uses.

Particularly when it comes to rebuilding what was ruined, and as per above, being able to sustain heavy work for longer. Though I don't doubt that poor unskilled labor will be plentiful and disposable in our dreaded near future, there is still a space for the overworked highly skilled


This is the future, its not a matter of if, just when. I hope I am alive to see it because its just so cool.

The next tech leap from here are "avatars" that have full VR and touch sensitivity and the worker can work in hazardous area safely or even work from home.

I think AI is going to take longer then predicted. Its the flying cars of predictions, something that never seems to happen.

Rann Xeroxx

This is all great and i am not trying to be a nooge. But how will it help to have 3 times nore force in your arms...and the same puny hands on the end of em?

Arnold Stonehouse

@Arnold Stonehouse

The exoskeleton provides a weight-bearing mounting point for the tool. You use your hands to manipulate the tool's position, not bear its weight.

Take a real close look at the pictures of the guys holding the tools. There is a thick piece of the thing that juts out from the waist that has a narrower piece on its end. On its end is a locking ring that fits around the tool.


mass produce, awesome Must modify for use aboard ship @ sea & offer Escape aids IF worn or to jettison suit to don lifevest etc. Test on carriers alone./

Stephen Russell

I can see uses for a similar type of exoskeleton by some physically disabled people that simply need extra support while going about normal day-to-day activities.

Facebook User

Exoskeletons are used to fortify old bridges, and I think it likely they will use some form of this technology to fortify buildings in 'quake territory as well. A biomimicry use for a long time in indigenous territory uses fig roots to build bridges where the roots form the original armature, but also can fortify from outside the original armature over time. The advantage of fig roots is they are highly flexible. Some tree roots are brittle, but many trees growing near rivers have very flexible roots. There are also bamboo sticks used as an expendable armature for remote-controlled, rolling mine-clearingballs. This was a TED talk and an exhibit at MOMA. There are really interesting applications for this kind of thinking/technology.

Mary Saunders
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